One of the more interesting games in the annals of Diamond no Ace finally draws to a close, and the stage is finally set for the final that’s been teased all season long. But we’re going to have to wait at least one more week (and maybe till next year) to see the big cliffhanger hanging over the series resolved. And like this just-finished game, it’s not such an easy one to figure out.
We begin where we ended – the faceoff between Kousei and Raichi. Ichidai’s coach decides to take the Kataoka approach and let his ace try and take down the monster. And it works – Kousei becomes the first pitcher to truly take on Raichi in a crucial situation and beat him. It’s a good dose of realism considering that this is a sport where failing 70% of the time is considered elite (though not necessarily at the high school level) and a rare bit of humility for Raichi.
But things don’t end well for Ichidai. Elated by the adrenaline of the moment and perhaps emboldened to the point of foolhardiness, Kousei shakes off his catcher (always a worrisome thing) and decides to go after Sanada with a fastball after his rival has whiffed on two sliders. It’s a real brain-fart to be honest – the whole notion that pride requires a pitcher to try and win with his fastball is pretty dumb. If you can get a guy out, who cares how you do it? Just win, baby – and that’s exactly what Yakushi does after Sanada drives Kousei’s heater to the right-center field wall, plating the tying and go-ahead runs.
The aftermath of this event? Kousei stlks off the mound and cowers in the locker room for the final two innings, his future with Ichidai in doubt. Fascinatingly, Kataoka and Ochiai seem to have a moment of detente – each recognizes the merit in the other’s take on this situation, and in doing so there seems to be a newfound respect between them (personally I think the result more or less vindicates Ochiai despite Raichi striking out – I doubt Sanada would have dented Kousei had the latter faced him with utmost seriousness).
Most crucial of all, of course, is the question of who will start against Yakushi in the final (I’m assuming Sanada will come out of the bullpen in the second or third inning, as usual). I don’t want to see Eijun get the call just because Furuya is hurt – but then, I think Eijun should be the starter even if Furuya is healthy. The Hokkaido brat is coming off throwing 100-plus pitches, and frankly he hasn’t been all that great in most of his recent starts anyway. But Daiya no A is liable to pull anything out of its ass when it comes to nexus moments like this one, so I’m prepared for anything and everything up to and including Nori getting the ball to start the game. But if they don’t tell us one way or the other next week (especially with a hiatus week following up) I’m going to be seriously pissed off.