The weather during Golden Week was perfect, and the Tigers had a golden opportunity to do two things: end their two-game losing streak and win over a lot more young fans. Prior to games, children were invited to make cardboard Tigers “kabuto” (warrior helmets), and players even joined them on Tuesday. Facing the fourth place Chunichi Dragons also meant that a sweep would move the Tigers into at least fourth place in the Central League standings. Could the yellow-clad home squad give their fans something to cheer about during the national holiday season? Here is a brief look at the three game set.
Game 1: I will not come to starter Randy Messenger‘s defense, as much as I love the guy. The Dragons were all over him right from the start, even though nothing was hit with authority until the fourth inning. Through four innings, Messenger gave up 11 hits and six runs. Not that the bleeding stopped when the relievers took over. Hiroya Shimamoto was one of the lone bright spots, pitching two shutout innings. However, adding insult to injury were the seventh (1 run allowed by Kazuhito Futagami) and the ninth (two runs given up by Ryoma Matsuda). For their part, the Tigers managed just two singles through eight innings and four hits overall. Two of these, including an RBI double in the ninth, came off the bat of Kosuke Fukudome. This was not the start the Tigers wanted to their Golden Week series, especially after back-to-back losses to the Giants last weekend. Final Score: Dragons 9, Tigers 2.
Game 2: It seems starter Minoru Iwata can’t buy a run from his Tigers teammates. Last season his average run support per nine innings was a mere 2.85 (so despite his sparkling 2.54 ERA, he finished 2014 with a 9-8 record), and this year heading into this game, it was just 2.57 per nine, so even with a 2.92 ERA before the game, he had just one win on the season. This game was no different than most Iwata starts this season. Until the sixth inning, that is. Both teams scored in the opening frame, with Mauro Gomez providing the key hit for the Tigers. After that, the game settled down as neither team put a runner past second base through five. As the home side of the sixth came around and the Tigers hitters loaded the bases (Matt Murton, Hayata Itoh hits followed by a Ryutaro Umeno walk), an interesting choice presented itself to manager Yutaka Wada. With two outs, do you bring in a pinch hitter to spell Iwata at the plate, or keep him in and hope he can do something at the plate and then keep up his stellar pitching performance? Surprisingly, Wada opted for the latter, and it paid off. Iwata cleared the bases with a triple, giving him a 4-1 lead to work with. He went one more inning, giving up a run in the seventh, but that was it for the Dragons. The Tigers hit two more triples (Takashi Toritani in the 7th and Umeno in the 8th) but did not add any insurance runs. Still, Iwata picked up his second win of the season, thanks to his own bat. Final Score: Tigers 4, Dragons 2.
Game 3: The Tigers’ bats remained silent once again in the rubber match, as Suguru Iwazaki made his first start in nearly three weeks. Both pitchers kept the bats at bay for the most part, but a few missed pitches cost our young southpaw and the Dragons put up single runs i the third and sixth innings. The Tigers had a few chances, including runners on first and third with just one out in the first inning, but a Gomez double play ended that threat. In the sixth, with Hiroki Uemoto on first (and running), Toritani’s drive to left center was cut off and Uemoto was easily thrown out at home, and the Tigers remained down 2-0. Pinch hitter Ryota Arai made it 2-1 with a solo blast in the bottom of the eighth, leaving the Tigers down a run with just three outs to go. In the ninth, Uemoto and Toritani quickly bowed out, and it looked like this one would end badly for the home team, but drama is what the Tigers do best. Gomez hit one up the middle, then Fukudome, Murton and pinch hitter Kentaro Sekimoto coaxed walks out of the Dragons relievers, tying the game at 2. Somehow, the order had come back around to Ryota, who took two quick strikes, and on the fifth pitch of the at bat, lunged at a low pitch, getting enough of it to clear the infield and bringing Fukudome home. Final Score: Tigers 3, Dragons 2.
Series Notes: Gomez extended his hitting streak to seven games with a single in the bottom of the ninth of Wednesday’s game. Of his eight hits during the streak, seven were singles… Iwata said heading into his sixth inning at bat that he thought to himself, “If I can get a hit here, surely I’ll be the hero!” He sure was!… Ryota joins his older brother, former Tiger Takahiro, in the Golden Week heroes’ circle. “Oniichan” had 5 RBIs on Tuesday as the Carp smoked the Giants 13-2… The Tigers host the Hiroshima Carp over the weekend. They will play a 3-game series against each Central League team before interleague play begins at the end of this month. Here a look at the CL standings after Wednesday’s action: