The Hanshin Tigers opened their season series with the Yomiuri Giants last night on a winning note, outlasting the home team 4-2 in front of a boisterous crowd at Tokyo Dome. The game featured a solid start from Randy Messenger (8IP, 2ER), a four-hit night from Tsuyoshi Nishioka and 3 RBIs from Ryutaro Umeno. These three men aside, the night was mostly a lot of nerve-wrecking for fans. And now folks, for the first time ever (here), a scathing report on the Tigers!
Takashi Toritani had his usual night – two hits, solid fielding. Unfortunately for him, the man behind him, Hiroki Uemoto, looked completely hopeless at the plate. Failed sacrifice bunt attempts, two strikeouts, no real good contact has left him hitting .160 on the year (4-for-25). He also looks quite tentative in the field, where he has vowed to cut down on his league-high 17 errors from last year. To boot, he was featured on the cover of the last two Tigers magazines (fan club and monthly digest) but produced very uninteresting, bland interviews. I try to find reasons to cheer for you, little pipsqueak of a man, but you’re giving me NOTHING!
The two foreigners from last year who carried the team when no one else would, well, they are really struggling in the early going. Mauro Gomez continues to show us what this generation’s Joe Carter looks like, chasing after countless low and outside offspeed pitches and striking out like it’s going out of style. Matt Murton has had a few clutch hits this season but in the past two games has not really hit anything very far. Yesterday featured a grounder to pitcher, one to third, a pop-up to second and another grounder to short. His .214 average so far is not inspiring much fear in anyone.
Kosuke Fukudome is another guy who has had clutch hits and even made a couple of nice plays in the field, but also has made a few blunders as well. Despite a home run and 4 RBIs he is hitting just .250 on the year so far. He’s also not exactly inspiring confidence in his pitchers or coaching staff by giving extra bases to runners with sub-par fielding.
Then there’s Yamato. Already a fringe player despite winning a Golden Glove award last season, his hitting has been pathetic this year, and last night pushed him one step closer to a place on the bench. His failure to bring home the runner on third base TWICE (a shallow infield grounder followed by a whiffed bunt on a squeeze play attempt) kept the game closer and tenser than it should have been. (Murton committed similar foul earlier in the game as well.) Manager Wada even called him out on it in a post-game interview. Perhaps it’s time for rookie Taiga Egoshi to get a start in tonight’s game.
Finally closer Seung-hwan Oh had a clean inning, his first in five attempts this season! The game ended with a victory but poor execution and slumps from key players mean that the Tigers’ luck will not continue for long at this rate. Also, despite some attempts at aggressiveness (Nishioka’s stolen base attempt in the first inning comes to mind), calling on Umeno to bunt Fukudome over to third with no outs in the sixth was a poor decision. Basically one of your hottest hitters of the night purposely gets an out so that the pitcher can face Yamato and Messenger? Foolishness! Not sure what Wada was thinking there! Same with the squeeze play in the eighth!
I hope the team can play sound fundamental baseball tonight and tomorrow, as the team attempts to even further delay the Giants’ 1000th victory against the Tigers. The series sits at Giants 999, Tigers 778 and 67 ties.