Not another September meltdown. Not a repeat of last year. That’s all fans, players and management alike have talked about since the middle of this season, as the Tigers started to contend for first place. A six-game losing streak earlier this month gave everyone nightmares and it felt like the Tigers were simply going through the motions. Then they won three series in a row, and things looked better. But this series might seal their fate as they fall deep into third place with precious few games left.
First, Tuesday caused heartbreak, and many fan poured out their doom, gloom and frustration from their minds to their fingers and finally to screens around the world. The team actually had 11 base runners, but only managed to score a single run, taking a 1-0 lead in the eighth. For his part, Minoru Iwata was looking for his 10th victory of the season. He went deep into the game, getting in a little trouble early on, but then pitching a perfect 4th through 7th inning before allowing one hit in the eighth. With his count at 139 pitches, he was pulled and closer Seung-hwan Oh was called upon to protect the meagre lead. After a strikeout, DeNA’s Tsutsugoh slashed a grounder to first. Unfortunately, Gomez, who had a rough afternoon at the plate, bobbled it, resulting in the winning run coming to the plate. Blanco made no mistake, as he blasted Oh’s second pitch deep into the left field stands. Game over. Heartbreak on.
But the two “goats” from that game wasted no time redeeming themselves. Gomez brought home the first run in the game on Wednesday, and the Tigers took a 4-1 lead in the fifth inning. It looked like a potential blowout, but the Baystars hung in there, scoring two in the sixth and another in the seventh, and the game was tied heading into the ninth. Toritani led off with a single to first, his third hit of the game (and second straight modasho). Up next, batting cleanup, #5, Mauro Gomez! On a 2-2 count, he rocked a pitch into the left field bleachers, much like Blanco had the day before. Tigers lead 6-4 heading into the bottom of the ninth. Oh came in, and perhaps fans got a little nervous. This time, however, he dispatched of the Baystars hitters in order, preserving the win. The Carp got blown out against the Swallows, and the Tigers once again pulled to within 1.5 games of second place.
The rubber match started extremely well for the men in black. Yamato walked, Toritani singled, Gomez walked, and Murton brought two of them home with a double. Fukudome brought the next two home with a single immediately after. However, starter Randy Messenger had a bit of a rough outing, loading the bases in three of the first five innings, giving up three runs and leaving the game’s fate in the hands of the relievers from the sixth onward. It took less than an inning for the relievers to surrender a run, and in the eighth, Fukuhara (winner of Wednesday’s game) gave up another run to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth. Despite a leadoff double by Fukudome, the next three batters (all pinch hitters) could do no better than advance him to third. Game over. Another disappointing loss.
The series looked like this:
Here are the current standings, as of the end of play tonight:
The gap between the Tigers and the Carp has now widened. The rest of the week sees the Tigers playing single matchups against the Carp (Friday) and Swallows (Saturday) at home. Friday’s game looks to be crucial, as the two teams see each other twice in the next 6 days. I hope to report on the game tomorrow, as I will be in attendance.
The imports all had some good and some not-so-good this week. These are their stat lines.
Series notes: Seung-Hwan Oh established an NPB record on Wednesday for most saves in a rookie season by an import player with 36… Randy Messenger keeps his league in wins (13) and strikeouts (222) despite not winning on Thursday… Gomez’s lead in RBIs (107) is now 10, as Eldred (Hiroshima) continues to struggle… The Baystars, Dragons and Swallows are all mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, and the lone drama left is the race for second, as the Giants’ magic number is 2.