They needed just one more run. In the last 5 1/3 innings they put nine guys on base, and only one needed to cross home plate. None did. The Tigers were aiming for their first three-game series sweep since their 8-game winning streak at the start of July, but fell short. Down 3-2 in the sixth, Yamato rapped a double to right, bringing in the tying run. With runners in scoring position and two outs, Toritani could not bring the winning run home. In the last three innings of regulation, neither team could score a run, though the Tigers had plenty of chances. In each inning from the 7th through 10th, they advanced at least one runner into scoring position. Still, no one scored. In the top of the 11th, Saiuchi came in and unfortunately did not have his best stuff. Two walks and a hit later, the bases were loaded with just one out. In came Takamiya, who did what he could, but allowed a sacrifice fly as the Dragons plated the winning run. In the bottom of the inning, the Tigers put a man on with one out, but could not advance him past first, and the game ended in an unfortunate 4-3 loss.
Fortunately, the first two games were well played from start to finish. Shintaro Fujinami started the first game, needing the win to become the first pitcher since Daisuke Matsuzaka to get double-digit wins in his first two seasons out of high school. He would also become the first Tiger to do so in 46 years. Unfortunately he struggled out of the gates, as Tigers pitchers have done a lot lately, and gave up two (unearned) runs in the first. Lucky for him, the Tigers bats came out strong as well, giving Fujinami a 3-2 lead to work with in the second. He allowed the tying run to cross home, but the Tigers responded with at least one run in each of the next five innings, and coasted to a 9-3 victory. Fukudome hit a home run and earned his first modasho as a Tiger.
The second game of the series featured strikeout king Messenger on the mound for the Tigers. He also struggled in the first, allowing a run (unearned) on two hits and a walk. He never really got his control down in this one, walking five batters, but he also went five more innings allowing just a home run, and the Tigers bats gave him a little leeway as well. Gomez drove in a run in each of his first three at bats, including his 100th RBI in the first, and his 25th home run in the fifth. He ended the game 4-for-4, 3 RBI and 3 runs scored. Final score: Tigers 7, Dragons 3.
The series looked like this:
Here are the current standings, as of the end of play tonight:
No ground gained, no ground lost this series. Up next for the Tigers is a 3-game road trip to Yokohama this Tuesday to Thursday, then single matchups against the Carp (Friday) and Swallows (Saturday) at home. Friday’s game looks to be crucial, as the Carp have a fairly easy week ahead as well. I’m happy to say I have tickets for the game. Can’t wait!
The imports started the series well but ended on a bit of a downer. These are their stat lines.
Series notes: Messenger took the league lead in victories with his 13th win on Saturday, and also reached the 1,000 career innings pitched (US + Japan) milestone. Congratulations!… Mauro Gomez now has 104 runs batted in on the season, 8 ahead of Hiroshima’s Eldred. With just 8 games left on the schedule, it looks like he will become the first foreigner in Tigers history to lead the league in RBIs in his first year in Japan. He also became the first to reach triple digits in RBIs… Matt Murton‘s batting average is now .339, quite far ahead of second-place Yamada (Dragons, .321) and Kikuchi (Carp, .321). Barring a complete meltdown on Murton’s part and a ridiculous hot streak from either other man, the batting title should be his… Seung-hwan Oh pitched two innings in Sunday’s game and even made his first plate appearance as a batter. He is now hitting 1.000 for his career in Japan!… The Tigers should finish the season with each of its import players leading the league in a key category – Messenger in strikeouts for sure, and probably wins as well; Gomez in runs batted in, Murton in batting average, and Oh in saves.