Gomez spurred on by Kakefu and Bass
Go ahead, outdo us! Legendary batsman Randy Bass (60) and Development Coordinator (DC) Masayuki Kakefu (59) of the 1985 championship team pointed to the cleanup hitter, infielder Mauro Gomez as being the key to victory as the Tigers open their three week road trip at Jingu Stadium against the Yakult Swallows on August 4th. To win the division for the first time in nine years, the team must break through the “Midsummer Wall” that stands in their way.
The next three weeks will make or break the Tigers’ season. Even if the term “road [trip] of death” is an outdated term, the weight behind these three weeks remains the same. Indeed, if they can get through this time alright, a fruitful fall awaits them. So who is the key to their success? The two Tiger legends agree that the team’s fate rests on one man’s shoulders: number 5, Gomez.
“[Gomez] is off to a great start. This will be his first time [being on this long road trip] but for his first year, he’s playing incredibly well. At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit 35 home runs, knock in a hundred, and bat .300.”
The greatest import player in team history really set the bar high for Gomez. He was visiting Tokyo Dome for the annual “Suntory Dream Match.” While he might not be in the same shape he once was, Tiger blood still courses through his veins. As a senator in his home state of Oklahoma, he follows the Tigers closely online, and is aware that Gomez is hitting .287 with 17 home runs and 76 RBIs in 93 games.
Mr. Tigers himself, DC Kakefu, responded with words of his own. “The daily routine is different [on the road] than it is at Koshien. It’s three weeks long and every game is a grind,” he said. “But the biggest difference between this year and last is that we’ve got a strong pillar in Gomez this year. It’s a completely different team now that we’ve got this cleanup hitter,” he concluded with great expectation.
The Tigers play seven consecutive road series totalling 21 games starting August 5th. It’s a crucial point in the season. Last year the Tigers went 14-9, but ended it with three straight losses to the Giants that sent them spiralling out of contention.
Ideally, they want to replicate the magic of the 1985 championship season. Much like this season, the 1985 team went on the road in second place, two games behind Hiroshima. After gutting out a 7-7 record on the road, the Tigers came home, swept Hiroshima three straight and took the division lead. From there, they made their way to the championship with little difficulty. They did not even return to Osaka Dome or Kansai even once, enduring a much tougher trip than the Tigers do now. Perhaps it was that harsh schedule that catalysed the team to win the title. They were powered largely by Bass, who hit .400, launched 6 home runs and knocked in 15 runs, and Kakefu who also hit .400, six home runs and had 14 RBIs.
Says Bass, “You have to go at least .500 on that road trip. If you don’t win at least half your games, you’re done. And especially against the Giants, you have to take at least two of three. [Those numbers] came in my third year,” he said humbly, but indicating they would need something similar out of Gomez. He also challenged Gomez to break his 1985 record of 134 runs batted in. “I would be thrilled if Gomez broke my record. Records are made to be broken, so I hope he can do it.”
Gomez, who first heard these words from the media while with his family at Shin Kobe Station, nodded silently. “I’m glad he feels that way about me, but all I can do is my best.” The gap between the Tigers and Giants sits at 2.5 games. If number 5 can contribute even more than the Tigers legend did, the road to victory should be a smooth one.