After months of anticipation and, a few weeks behind schedule because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the CPBL finally got underway Sunday evening in Taichung.
That it was 24-hours later than expected due to a rain delay, and 120 km south of Taoyuan where the Rakuten Monkeys play, in the end didn’t really matter.
Baseball was back and fans across Taiwan, and increasingly so across the globe, had a real game to watch – the first of the year – anywhere.
Had the weekend gone as planned, the reigning Taiwan Series champs Rakuten Monkeys would have hosted the Chinatrust Brothers in Taoyuan on Saturday night.
Rain across north Taiwan from early afternoon Saturday eventually put pay to the traditional season opener taking place at the home of the Series holders though, sending attending media types and players home early; games currently being played behind closed doors means no fans are allowed in..
The Rakuten experiment for its opener with ‘robot fans’ in the form of cut-outs and mannequins dressed in Monkeys’ shirts carrying messages was similarly dampened by the weather. Both cutouts and mannequins ended up moved under the stands to await the Sunday showdown with the Fubon Guardians.
In the end, the rain did not let up over Saturday night, and although it had eased off on Sunday across most of the north of the island, the forecast and the field condition in Taoyuan saw a second cancellation in two days called several hours before the first ball was to be pitched.
First Blood To The Lions
In Sunday’s ‘other‘ game at the Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium under sunny skies, Cuban left-handed pitcher Ariel Miranda started for the Brothers and became the first pitcher in the world to throw in a competitive game in 2020.
The former Seattle Mariner got off to an iffy start for his new team giving up hits in each of the first three innings, with a solo-homer at the start of the second for the Lions separating the teams until the bottom of the fourth when Chan Tzu-Hsien leveled off another solo-homer.
The Uni-Lions own new boy on the mound Ryan Feierabend, another former Mariner lefty, looked far more comfortable ploughing through the Brothers’ batting line-up early on.
Both pitchers made it to the end of the fifth before being pulled, Miranda posting a 1.40 WHIP and 1.80 ERA to Feierabend’s 1.12 & 1.69.
A typical CPBL battle of the bullpens followed with both teams showing signs they are still warming up for the season ahead, before Lions’ catcher Chen Chung-Yu hit a lead-off double deep into left field at the top of the ninth.
He then stole third after an errant pitch went past the Brothers catcher only for the home team’s man on the mound, C.C. Lee, to pull himself together and dismiss the Lions.
Fan favourite Ngayaw Ake was replaced by runner Pan Chih-Fang after being walked to first in the bottom of the inning.
With no outs, Pan then stole second as the Lions pitching failed them. Loaded bases duly followed.
Pitcher Cheng Chun-Jen was pulled from the mound with two outs and runners from 1st to 3rd, leaving it to no. 12 Chen Yun-Wen to dismiss the Brothers and take the game into a 10th inning.
Another failure to capitalise on loaded bases followed in the bottom of the 10th, before the game was finally settled by a series of RBIs for the Lions in the top of the 11th.
Final score: Lions 4 : 1 Brothers
Next up for the Brothers is a visit by Fubon Guardians on Tuesday, as the Lions stay on the road and head north to play the Monkeys in Taoyuan on Wednesday.