Every time the Yomiuri Giants come to town this season, the Tigers are offering some kind of special at Koshien Stadium. In celebration of the team’s 80th year, they are paying homage to all the magical moments between the two clubs, dubbing the series “Legends Day.” The question is, are the Tigers still producing legendary players? Would this series give birth to any legendary moments that will be talked about 20 years from now when the team celebrates its centennial? Let’s look at what went down these last three days!
Game 1: Two strong pitchers took the mound in this one, but only one would be left standing at the end. The other failed to make it through the fifth for the first time all year. Minoru Iwata got taken deep by Giants’ catcher Shinnosuke Abe in the second, and although that was all the offense the Giants would need on this night, they kept adding more. Three more came in the third after a rare Takashi Toritani error, one more in the fourth and two more off reliever Kentaro Kuwahara in the sixth. The Tigers, for their part, mustered just 4 hits (two of them doubles, mind you) but got nothing to show for it, as the Giants cruised to victory in this one, extending the Tigers’ losing streak to three. The lineup shuffle did no good, as Matt Murton was unable to get things going from the leadoff spot, though Kosuke Fukudome got two hits in his return to the five-hole. Final Score: Giants 8, Tigers 0.
Game 2: The Tigers desperately needed to right the ship, so manager Wada once again shuffled the hitting order, even changing out one of his regulars. Toritani led off, Murton hit third (something I had long been waiting to see) and Fumiya Araki replaced Hiroki Uemoto at second base. Despite the changes, the Tigers still did not generate much offense. Murton led the way with three hits, and the lone Tigers run came in the sixth as Mauro Gomez singled to left, driving in Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The opportunity for more runs was there, with runners on first and second and no one out, but two strikeouts and a grounder later, the inning was over. Again the chance for insurance runs presented itself in the eighth, as Nishioka reached on an error, Murton singled and Uemoto pinch-ran and stole second. With runners on second and third and no one out, the chance to score was golden. However, Canadian reliever Scott Mathieson struck out Gomez, and after walking Fukudome, also rang up Yamato and induced an inning-ending pop fly to Kentaro Sekimoto. The story in this one, though, was hero Shintaro Fujinami, who pitched his first career complete game shutout. He allowed just two hits while striking out 10, throwing 137 pitches. He has now thrown complete games in 3 of his last 4 outings dating back to a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in Tokyo against these same Giants at the start of the month. Final Score: Tigers 1, Giants 0.
Game 3: Rookie Yuya Yokoyama made is grand debut with the hopes of helping his team to a second straight win and a first series win against their longtime rivals. The Giants had a strong first-year pitcher of their own on the mound, and the game was scoreless through five quick innings. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Yokoyama finally surrendered a run in the sixth after back-to-back doubles, and the Tigers still had just one hit through seven innings when our pitcher left the mound. In line for the loss, he could only sit and watch from the dugout. Kazuya Takamiya held fort in the eighth, and in the home half, finally something happened for the good guys. A leadoff Fukudome single chased their starter, and after another brilliant strategic sacrifice bunt by pinch bunter Shunsuke, a walk to Sekimoto (starting to sound familiar?), Keisuke Kanoh came to the plate. Last series, this same scenario occurred and the inning ended on a double play. This time, though, the small-ball approach actually worked, as Kanoh got plunked, Ryota Arai hit a sacrifice fly to bring the tying run home, and with runners on the corners, stone-cold Toritani came to the plate. He had struck out in his first three at bats, something very uncharacteristic of him. He made everything alright, though, with a scorching single to right, and the Tigers had the lead! Naturally, closer Seung-hwan Oh made things interesting, giving up two hits between outs, and with one man to go, there were runners on second and third. A called third strike ended the game, gave the Tigers their first series win against the Giants this year, and sent the balloons flying. Final Score: Tigers 2, Giants 1.
Series Notes: With an errant throw in the seventh inning of Game 1, Uemoto committed his NPB-worst 7th error on the year. “I’ll do better from now on,” he said… Fujinami leads all NPB pitchers with 4 complete games this season. His previous high was two in his sophomore season (last year). The young phenom is now 3-4 on the season with a sparkling 2.43 ERA… With the two wins to end the series, the Tigers have now gone an entire month either winning or losing in 2+ game chunks. Since April 22, their streaks have gone: 2L, 4W, 3L, 2W, 3L, 3W, 3L, 2W. Total: 11 wins, 11 losses… Before his game-winning hit, Toritani was hitless in his previous 12 at-bats and his average was down to .223 on the year… Since reaching double figures in hits in two straight games, the Tigers have gone 31-for-176 in 6 games (.176 average), scoring just 6 runs. Though they are 3-3 in those games, clearly the bats need to wake up if they are going to make a push for the playoffs… Just one series to go until the interleague portion of the schedule starts next Tuesday – a trip to Yokohama to face the league-leading Baystars. Projected starting pitchers: Mario Santiago, Atsushi Nohmi, Yuta Iwasada.