Cross Game – 27-29

I still think the women’s baseball game is the best in the series up to this point, because it is a great peak into the strategy and nuances of baseball (and any sport, really, since a lot of what Aoba did in that episode is purely psychological), but this game is a close second, more so after the big, lumbering first baseman breaks his finger, which allows Mishima to get into the game and give Kitamura the toughest challenge he’s faced in his life up to this point.

Before that, it was more of the same — opponents have a bit of information about Kitamura beforehand, but seeing him pitch in person totally blows their expectations out of the water and rattles them a little bit. And then Azuma comes out and blasts his home run, which shakes their confidence that much more. Then the game develops into more of a pitchers’ duel. It is kind of similar to when the Seishuu scrubs faced the A-team; Ryuuou’s ace is similar to the ace the scrubs faced way back when in that he wins more with pinpoint control and staying cool under pressure than by being overpowering and dominant with his pitches. Maybe that is how Akaishi is able to call such a solid game — they’ve already faced a similar pitcher in the past.

The most fun part of this early portion of the game is Kitamura and especially Azuma getting in some psychological digs at Shimano, who has a tremendous ego and an almost pathological need to be the hero and center of attention at all times. He’s undeniably talented, but it is also incredibly easy to get under his skin, as well. By the time Shimano eeks out another fortunate hit, Azuma does not even have to say anything to piss him off. If Shimano had not broken his finger, then Seishuu probably would have taken the game, because the guy would have become angrier as the game possessed and probably would have made a key mistake at some point — if not during an at bat, then certainly on the field.

Once Mishima — and, later, Oikawa — gets into the game, then things really heat up. His home run sends a clear message that even someone with Kitamura’s level of talent cannot afford to mess around with him. Kitamura doesn’t let the mistake rattle him, but it’s clear that even if he could tell that Mishima was someone to be reckoned with, he didn’t think he could be pounded so hard. And Oikawa is a fresh pitcher with clear talent, who also is not so prideful that he cannot intentionally walk Azuma, so Seishuu is not able to score any more runs off Ryuuou.

Then the hit happens. It’s a great dramatic moment when it’s made clear that Kitamura was able to get his glove out in time to catch the ball, and initially it’s probably enough for the viewer to think, “OK, this is when Seishuu will turn it around and get the victory.” I know I thought this at first — I expected Seishuu to lose in the tournament eventually, but I didn’t think it would be in the first round (although, in retrospect, if Seishuu were to lose this year, then to lose against a pretty strong opponent is the logical place for it to happen). The hints about Kitamura’s arm going numb are maybe a bit too strong, but it’s OK since it is a fitting ending for such a tough game between two teams that are pretty even, talent-wise, up and down the roster.

I like that Kitamura is clearly disappointed about the team’s loss, but that he also does not beat himself up about it to an unnecessary extent. Flukes and bad luck are rampant in sports; talent is not the only determining factor for victory. Events like Shimano breaking his finger, or Kitamura’s arm going numb from catching a red-hot hit, happen all the time in competitive sports. These things are just as likely to swing the course of a game as a big, dramatic play. Teams have to get a lot of breaks to win a championship; it just so happens that this was not the year the breaks fell Seishuu’s way. Not much they can do about that other than prepare for the next season.

The big event at the end of ep29 of course is the appearance of the Wakaba lookalike who has been in the OP sequence for a while now. There are a few directions in which the story can go with this, and I don’t think Cross Game will go for forced drama, but I’m a bit wary right now.

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