Home MLB Ichiro excels at ‘The Egg’ as M’s take the opener

Ichiro excels at ‘The Egg’ as M’s take the opener

by Matt Smith

Ichiro sent the fans home happy in Tokyo today as his four hits helped the Seattle Mariners to a 3-1 victory over the Oakland A’s in MLB’s International Series opener.

The A’s and M’s were so glad to be playing competitive baseball again that they decided nine innings wasn’t enough and played two extra frames before Seattle made their decisive breakthrough in the top of the eleventh inning.

Dustin Ackley joined Ichiro in having a memorable opener by launching a solo home run to right-centre field and he was rewarded with the game’s MVP award and a cheque for one million Japanese yen. Unfortunately for Ackley, that sum sounds more impressive than it really is ($12,038 U.S., or £7,600), although I’m sure it was gratefully received nonetheless.

Ackley’s blast came just after I had muted Seattle’s ROOT Sports presentation on ESPN America and tuned into BBC Radio’s excellent live coverage instead. Simon Brotherton and Josh Chetwynd’s commentary was about five seconds ahead of ESPN America’s pictures, making Ackley’s homer feel like two blows to the head rather than one.

That was the only downside to the event though. Simon and Josh work well together and they do an excellent job of getting the balance right between explaining the simple things for the newcomers whilst not making it seem condescending to the established fans of the game.

As they did during last year’s World Series, they made sure the atmosphere and excitement at the ballpark travelled over the airwaves (or the fibre optic cables if you were listening online) and that’s the great benefit of having the commentators actually in attendance. That was particularly noticeable in comparison to ROOT Sport’s commentary via ESPN America. Dave Simms and Mike Blowers are a good broadcasting duo, but they didn’t quite have their normal spark commentating from their Seattle studio in the early hours of the morning.

The MLB on 5 Live Sports Extra budget understandably means that Simon and Josh will only be at the ballpark for special events such as the opener, the All-Star Game and the World Series. The show still works extremely well with Nat Coombs being joined by Josh (and guests) to accompany local radio commentary of the regular season games, but when the budget allows it then getting out to the ballpark really does add something worthwhile to the coverage.

Incidentally, the 5 Live show is switching to a regular Thursday evening slot for this season, with some Sunday shows mixed in for good measure. I’ll be writing more about why I like this move in the coming days.

The pitchers were expected to be ahead of the hitters at this stage of the year and that proved to be the case in this game, although we’ll see how Bartolo Colon and Jason Vargas get on tomorrow. Felix Hernandez lived up to his ‘King’ nickname with a very strong eight innings to start the year and Brandon McCarthy matched him most of the way.  The Ackley home run was virtually the only mistake McCarthy made as he once again proved adept at getting groundballs galore for the A’s infielders to collect.

If the pitchers were in good shape, the same could also be said for home plate umpire Tom Hallion. He had his strikeout act in mid-season form, combining a violent swivelling arm pump with a guttural roar as if someone had just attached jump leads to his back and sent 50,000 volts through his body. The A’s Jemile Weeks would probably argue that Hallion was so keen on showing off his ‘moves’ that he used them even when strike three hadn’t crossed the plate.

Weeks may not have been impressed by Hallion, but Simon Brotherton was quite taken by him as he was with the respectful and attentive Japanese crowd who were engrossed with every pitch rather than “constantly leaving to fill their faces”, as Brotherton memorably put it.

The Tokyo Dome will be full of attentive fans once again tomorrow, all hoping for a repeat performance from Ichiro and the Mariners. It should be another even game, starting at 10.10 a.m. UK time. Coverage will again be provided by ESPN America and BBC Radio, with the latter’s commentary live throughout on the BBC website and coming on air on BBC 5 Live Sports Extra once the day’s cricket is over.

Unfortunately for the England team, that might be fairly early into the A’s-M’s game. At least we’ll have another good game of baseball to enjoy if England’s efforts fall short against Sri Lanka.

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