So the lead was now down to a half game. The Hanshin Tigers needed to take advantage of the short “home” respite at Kyocera Dome on the weekend against the floundering Yokohama DeNA Baystars. Could they hold them off and preserve or even build on their lead over the surging Giants?
Game 1: Starter Minoru Iwata came in with a buzz cut and the mindset that if he didn’t perform well, he could get shipped down to the farm after a few bad outings in a row. He came through, though, going 7 2/3 innings and allowing just one run on six hits. The team gave him an early lead, too, as Matt Murton led off the second with a double, Taiga Egoshi got an infield hit, and Ryutaro Umeno, getting a start for the first time in ages, knocked them both in with a double of his own. Takashi Toritani hit a seeing-eye single up the middle to pad the lead. From there, it was typical Tigers, as they left runners stranded in the 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th innings. Fortunately they did not need any more production, as closer Seung-hwan Oh took a two-run advantage and turned it into a one-run nail biter in the 9th before closing the hatchet. Final Score: Tigers 3, BayStars 2.
Game 2: Sophomore Suguru Iwazaki has been on a roll lately. After starting the year 0-5 with some terrible final innings in his first six starts, he was looking for his third straight win in this one. Other than a rough second inning (he walked home a run) and a solo shot to start the seventh, he was solid once again. In fact, he has been the team’s most consistent pitcher in August! On the offensive side, Toritani did what a captain needs to do. He scored the first run, drove in the second and third (RBI double in the 4th), Then in the eighth, he drove in another run with a triple and scored an insurance run. Other key players in the game were Kosuke Fukudome (first RBI, two hits) and Ryota Imanari (2 hits and robbed of a third). The old relievers (Shinobu Fukuhara and Yuya Andoh) preserved the game in the eighth and ninth, and the Tigers started another winning streak. Final Score: Tigers 7, BayStars 2.
Game 3: Randy Messenger had something to prove on Sunday. So did the hitters. Both proved themselves well. After struggling against the Giants earlier in the week, Messenger came in after just 4 days’ rest and threw a gem. The hitters, who have done an awful job of giving their ace runs, started the game as they have many Sundays of late. Toritani walk, Yamato bunt, Fukudome RBI. Then with two outs in the fourth, Murton hit his 8th home run of the year (video clip here). One inning later with two outs, Messenger hit an infield single, Toritani advanced him to third, and a Yamato plunking later, Fukudome walked to bring Messenger home for a third run. The BayStars managed just a run in eight innings (3 hits, no walks, 11 strikeouts) against the big man, and Oh shut it down on 7 pitches, preserving the win and giving the Tigers a series sweep. Final Score: Tigers 3, BayStars 1.
Series Notes: Toritani committed his 10th error of the year on Friday. It was the first time since 2012 that he reached double digits in gaffes. He made a beautiful jumping catch in the sixth inning of Saturday’s game to compensate… Gomez hasn’t hit an RBI in 7 games. The defending RBI champ is on pace for just 75 RBIs after knocking in 109 last year… Reports from the farm suggest that injured infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka is not making notable progress on his elbow. He is still only practicing batting left, and no timetable has been set for him to start throwing the ball around yet… Messenger surpassed Joe Stanka for third place in the all-time NPB rankings for most career strikeouts by a foreign pitcher. He has 894, and will need another season to take second. First might be out of reach (1415) but there should be no doubt about his return to the Tigers in 2016… The Tigers are currently 12-6 since leaving Koshien, and are guaranteed a winning record on their long August road trip for the third straight season. Up next: 3 in Hiroshima starting Tuesday. GO TIGERS!