What They Say:
Eijun Sawamura finally makes his first appearance at the spring invitational! He wants to restore Seido’s reputation as a first-rate team and make them national champions! Seido High School Baseball Club’s new run is about to begin!
Episode 50 – “FIRE AGE”
Seido has defeated Yura Sogo in a called game. Reflecting on their inability to establish a rhythm in the early innings, Seido begins to analyze and strategize against their next opponent, Hachiya Oji. Of particular interest is their captain, second baseman Kawabata. Kuramochi and Haruichi are fired up to face their rival fielder. Meanwhile, Kataoka calls Sawamura to his office after the coches’ meeting, and tells him to make the most of his experience from the first game.
Episode 51 – “That’s the Reason Why”
The summer tournament is in full swing and Seido is playing their second game against Hachiya Oji and their skilled second baseman Kawabata. Furuya is the starting pitcher and has recovered nicely, throwing howling fastballs in the first inning. But Hachiya Oji has been expecting them, and third batter Kawabata hits one which nearly sails into near center field, but Haruchi and Kuramochi are there to stop it!
Episode 52 – “Ace of Diamond”
It’s the top of the seventh inning in Seido’s game against Hachiya Oji. Hachiya Oji has to score this inning or else the game will be called. Kawabata fought his way to a base, but it would be Hachiya Oji’s last offensive. Seido’s victory is imminent. After hearing Furuya say he’d get to play next game, Sawamura watches the game from the bench, the number one on his back. The story of these two players vying for the title of ace will continue.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
There’s only one game left to play, at least in this first season of Act II, and it’s a game that Sawamura would like to start. Important from a thematic standpoint, it’s a game that Sawamura realistically can’t start and it’s a game that Furuya is starting. It’s a game where Furuya has promised to win, in order to put Sawamura back on the mound.
This has been the dynamic at play the entire series, or at least since Furuya’s introduction. Both of them can’t be on the mound at the same time, even if Furuya has played in left while Sawamura has been on the mound before. But only one of them can pitch at a time, and each time one pitches, it gives the other another chance to do so the next game. In the early going, it was easier; Sawamura and Kawakami relieved Tanba or Furuya most of the time. But this is called Ace of the Diamond, not Ace of the Bullpen. Sawamura and Furuya have both had the ace number, and they both want it in the long term.
At the same time, both of them have had performance issues. Sawamura’s first start was disastrous. He was too tense, and couldn’t place his pitches well enough to get through it. Thanks to great defense behind him, he only allowed two runs, but his pitch count was running up too fast, and it wasn’t going to stay at two runs for very long.
But he recognizes these deficiencies! He knows what was wrong, and he’s actively trying to fix it. It’s also thanks to Kataoka’s subtle leadership that he’s going to get over this hump, at least hopefully. Kataoka went through this same thing when he got the ace number for Seido the first time, and his old coach Sakaki reminds him of this fact. At least for this next matchup, Kataoka shows confidence in Sawamura by having him warm up from Furuya’s first pitch. If Furuya struggles at all, it’s Sawamura time.
Without further ado, Seido v. Hachiya Oji
- Furuya gets the start two days after Sawamura’s implosion for Seido, and he quickly induces a popout to Kuramochi, then strikes out the next guy. He’s sitting at 150+ km/h, so he’s bringing the heat. The top of the first ends with a liner past Furuya and to Kuramochi, who flips it to Kominato, who chucks the ball to first for the final out.
- In the bottom of the 2nd, Hachiya Oji proves Seido isn’t the only team with leather, as Kanemaru grounds out to their second baseman, Kawabata. Kawabata, the only character with significant screen time in this game, is supposedly one of the best defensive second basemen in the tournament, and he has good offense as well. This led to a declaration that Kominato and Kuramochi would prove they’re the best middle infield tandem.
- In a run-creating sequence of events in the bottom of the 3rd, Seido proves the top of the lineup is not to be messed with. First, Kuramochi shoots a liner into the gap, just past Kawabata, and then starts his steal of second before the ball even leaves the pitcher’s hand. Kominato grounds out to Kawabata, but Kuramochi is too fast to consider trying the force out at third, then Shirasu gets an RBI, but also creates another out. It is extremely small ball, but also supremely thrilling to see Kuramochi basically create a run out of thin air. Miyuki lines out to Kawabata to end the inning, which is less thrilling.
- By the top of the 5th, Furuya is sitting in the mid-150 km/h and strikes out the side, getting him to double digit Ks for the game.
- The bottom of the 5th is where the typical Ace of the Diamond montage starts, and also where Seido scores five more runs. I’ll do my best here…
- Kuramochi gets the Rickey Henderson double, by way of a walk-steal combination.
- Kominato doubles, bringing Kuramochi home, and the score to 2-0. It’s also mentioned that Kominato has sneaky power during this at bat. Probably not home run power, at least not yet or not without an Altuve-like leg kick (sans the sign stealing). But enough that Kataoka avoids giving him the bunt sign, because of what his combination of speed and power can do. It’s showcased here with the double.
- Shirasu brings Kominato home somehow (score 3-0), then Hachiya Oji walks Miyuki to get to Maezono.
- Maezono, finally stepping up in a huge moment, blasts a 3-run home run to send the score to 6-0.
- The game is basically over at this point, but Furuya grounds out to end the inning, or at least to end the part of the inning that we’re privy to.
- In the bottom of the 6th, Yui pinch hits for Yuki, and hits a double. Kanemaru and Kominato both get RBI hits before the inning ends, and the score balloons to 8-0.
- In the top of 7th, Hachiya Oji must score at least two runs or the game will be called. The only at bat that is shown is Kawabata’s, because who else’s would we even care about.
- The at bat starts with a foul, then a ball. After seeing Furuya at least two other times, he has a good sense for the speed of the pitches. It’s also mentioned here that Kawabata has one of the fastest swings in the tournament, which is translated as one of the best swings in the tournament. They said in English “swing speed,” so unless that means something else in the translation that’s just lost on me, I’m not sure why they changed it. But swing speed is very important, especially with someone like Furuya who has a very fast fastball and a hard sinking slider. The more milliseconds a batter can sit, the more of the path of the ball they see.
- It should also be noted that Furuya has a no hitter going at this point, and it is at this point that Kawabata breaks up that no hitter.
- Unfortunately for Hachiya Oji, that’s the only hit they’ll get this game. The next batter hits into a 6-4-3 double play, and the final batter flies out to left to end the game.
- 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R on 93 pitches for Furuya, the high school Maddux?
It is in these moments that Ace of the Diamond, and really most of these sports anime, thrives. Hachiya Oji, and every team that loses to the main characters, have third years where this was their last chance at high school glory. In Ace of the Diamond (not Act II), it was Tanba, the elder Yuki and Kominato, Masuko, Sakai, and Isashiki. In this, it’s Kawabata. There’s a reason (manipulative as it is) for them to show backstories for these losing teams (or even the winning ones, that aren’t rivals). It’s to tell a larger thematic piece about hard work, and the idea that this is a last chance, when their career really could be just beginning. We see Kawabata bowing in front of his mother and sister (it was revealed that his father’s passing, with whom he trained and gained a love for baseball in the first place, led him to dedicate himself to the sport in high school and quickly become a first year starter), thanking them for packing his bento and washing his uniform. And the tears that flow from his eyes say the rest.
This is also the moment where Furuya makes good on his promise to hand the ball off—this time figuratively, not literally—to Sawamura. Seido got through to the next game and, while he may hand off the ball, he will not so easily hand over the ace number.
Most importantly, this is the episode where I can dive at least superficially into analytics! The next Seido is facing, Norikane, has embraced the flyball revolution, and I love them for it. Probably not enough to actively root against Seido, but we’ll see. The flyball revolution is something that came to national prominence in MLB around the same time as the juiced ball, and both resulted in huge growths in home run rates per player. To give some statistical background, home run rates per game per team hovered around 1 until 2015, when it was 1.01. 2016: 1.16, 2017: 1.26, 2018: 1.15, 2019: 1.39. On a by player basis too, the ones who have embraced and thrived most in the flyball revolution are guys like JD Martinez, whose home run totals per season from 2014 to now are: 23 (123 games played), 38 (158), 22 (120), 45 (119), 43 (150), 36 (146). The spike from 22 to 45 is most notably, because that’s the first time he hit over 40 homers in a season, and he hit well over 40. The flyball revolution works.
As Okumura points out to Sawamura though, it doesn’t work quite as well in high school baseball. The scouting is way worse, so you can’t predict nearly as well, thus you can’t really get a read on what how powerful of a swing you should use, how defensive you should be in certain counts, and the results are likely way worse than on a major league level. Of course, you can’t also just implement it team-wide and expect it to work; that’s why hitting coaches like Rob Van Scoyoc have articles about how to revamped JD Martinez’s swing before he works for an entire team, which he does now, for the Dodgers.
Unfortunately, and weirdly, the series ended just as the first pitch was thrown against Norikane, and I have no idea when more Ace of the Diamond is coming. The last episode is also funnily called Ace of Diamond, leading to a difference in the show title and episode title, at least on an officially translated level, because Ace of the Diamond does make more sense, even if it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely in the colloquial.
But this season gave me everything I wanted out of Ace of the Diamond. Sawamura achieved what he initially set out to do, but he wasn’t just immediately successful. The weight of the ace number was truly felt by him, and the loss of it by Furuya, who is still a pitching machine parading as a character. The baseball was still exciting and fun, if never animated. And quite a lot went by in setting up the next batch of first years for us to hate or fall in love with.
Maybe my favorite aspect of Ace of the Diamond is how long it’s been and how much ground they’ve covered in that time. We grew attached to the third years as the series begun, and we cried when they lost and graduated. But the second years’ leadership eventually filled that hole, and some first years stepped up in performance. It’s exactly how a high school team would have grown over that same amount of time, and it’s great to see in anime time. Once this batch of third years graduates, hopefully with at least a Koushien appearance, if not win, it’ll be sad, but I’ll also look forward to the catching battle between Okumura and Yui, how Yuki will grow into his too powerful for his abilities swing, and who will replace the huge void in leadership that Miyuki, Kuramochi, and Maezono leaves.
There’s plenty more Ace of the Diamond to be had, even if it’s not animated or even written in manga form yet. And as I set nearly at the onset of this series, I’d be happy to continue following Seido even after Sawamura and his peers graduate. I firmly believe this show is about Seido much less than it’s about Sawamura. There does always have to be that central character and push, but not much would be lost if another tried to take the ace mantle in the same way Sawamura has.
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