Two straight huge wins over the Hiroshima Carp had the Tigers looking great and remaining in the thick of the Central League race. The weekend series in Yokohama would feature their two legitimate aces and a chance to move into first place if all the cards got dealt in their favor. How would they fare at the hitter-friendly confines of Yokohama Stadium?
Game 1: Once again the team started extremely well, with Mauro Gomez singling to right, scoring Yamato in the first. Despite chances in most of the innings of this game, the team did not give any extra support to starter Randy Messenger, who gave up just two hits but walked six in his six innings of work. One of the two hits was the fatal wound in this game – a three-run blast to dead center in the fifth inning. Older-than-Methuselah reliever Kosuke Katoh struggled mightily in the eighth as well, leaving the bases loaded and one out for Akira Iwamoto, who could not hold the runners on base. The Tigers mounted a comeback attempt in the ninth, with Keisuke Kanoh hitting a two-run shot to left, and Gomez bringing Yamato home again, but the game was out of reach, and their closer came in and slammed the door on any hope we had of coming back. Final Score: BayStars 7, Tigers 4.
Game 2: Lately it seems as though the Tigers are able to put up an early run at will. Matt Murton‘s infield single scored a run in the first, but starter Shintaro Fujinami got himself into trouble in the bottom half of the inning, giving up three hits and two runs. The BayStars’ starter did not pitch well, though, giving up four hits, a walk and a fielder’s choice (on which no out was recorded), and the men in pinstripes took the lead back with four runs in the second. The home team went to the bullpen early but they managed to keep the Tigers’ bats in check for the most part. A base running gaffe by Gomez in the seventh was the closest the team got to scoring another run. For his part, Fujinami recorded double digit strikeouts (10) and despite shaky control (3 walks and a hit batsman) he kept the score unchanged until he left the mound after seven. The usual two sealed the deal with shutout innings, although Shinobu Fukuhara got into a serious jam in the eighth that could have made this one close. Instead, coupled with consecutive losses from the other top teams in the CL, the Tigers took sole possession of first at the end of the night. Final Score: Tigers 5, BayStars 2.
Game 3: Despite a decent outing last Sunday, Suguru Iwazaki was still winless on the season heading into this one. As he has done in many of his outings, he started extremely well, shutting down the ‘Stars through six, allowing just one hit. He got pulled after allowing a hit in the seventh, but Yuya Andoh kept the shutout intact. Once again, the Tigers scored early, this time on an error by their shortstop. The sixth inning featured Gomez’s first home run in 22 games. It was a monster two-run blast that gave Iwazaki a bit of a buffer, essentially putting the game out of reach for the anemic DeNA bats. Despite allowing two runs in the ninth, Seung-hwan Oh closed out another game, earning his 32nd save of the year. At long last, Iwazaki has a win this year! Final Score: Tigers 3, BayStars 2.
Series Notes: Yamato has taken injured Hiroki Uemoto‘s place at second base, playing solid defense and even contributing with the bat and on the base paths. He collected his first modasho of the year on Friday, and stole a base to boot. Uemoto’s injury is more serious than the bone bruise it was first called. He has a fractured hip bone, and his recovery timeline is indefinite… Katoh was optioned down to the farm after Friday night’s meltdown. Yutaka Tamaki got called up to the parent club for the first time this season as a replacement… Fukudome was given Friday off, though he did appear as a pinch hitter. Starting in right in his place was recently-recalled Masahiro Nakatani. He went 0-for-3… Three Tigers (Yamato, Ryota Arai and Taiga Egoshi) brought their season averages up past the .200 mark on Saturday. All three fell back under the Mendoza line on Sunday… On the other side of things, Gomez raised his average to a season-best .290 and Murton brought his up to .288. The two imports’ high level of play has brought the team’s record back to 4 games above .500. Here are the current CL standings: