The long summer road trip is over at long last. The Hanshin Tigers pulled into first place early in the trip and finished it on Thursday still atop the Central League. With a little help from the Yakult Swallows, who beat the Yomiuri Giants three straight, the Tigers are able to come down the home stretch with a lead, and could start the magic number countdown before September rolls around. Here’s how the final series on the long road trip played out.
Game 1: Due to a nearby typhoon, this one was called off. It has been rescheduled for September 25, which means the Tigers will play at least 10 straight games from the 18th to 27th.
Game 2: Both starters scheduled to pitch on Tuesday went Wednesday instead. Atsushi Nohmi hoped to rebound from a nightmare of an outing last week against the Giants. Through two innings he looked great, though he jammed his leg on third base while sliding in the top of the third inning. This may have affected his pitching, as he allowed a second-pitch home run to lead off the third, then got into a deeper jam before escaping unharmed. He struggled again in the fourth and fifth, and ended his night after 4 1/3 innings and three runs against. In his stead, three freshly recalled relievers – Kazuhito Futagami, Kazuya Tsutsui and Yutaka Tamaki, combined for 3 2/3 innings of one-run ball. The Tigers sticks could not get anything going against lefty Kris Johnson, though, despite ten base runners through eight innings. The ninth brought some excitement in the form of a Ryutaro Umeno two-run home run, followed by three straight hits to load the bases for Mauro Gomez. Unfortunately, a double play ended any hopes of a comeback win. Final Score: Carp 4, Tigers 2.
Game 3: Entering this game, the top 7 CL pitchers (in ERA) were a combined 14-1 against the Tigers. The team would face Kenta Maeda for the first, but probably not last, time this year. (He is also among the top 7 pitchers.) He pitched like a true ace through 8, allowing no runs on just 4 hits and 3 walks. He was aided by a failed hit-and-run attempt, a failed bunt resulting in a double play, and Countering that effort was Minoru Iwata, who was just a solo HR from matching the Carp ace. The home team added a run in the bottom of the eighth, and the Carp closer came back out in the ninth to close things off. Once again the Tigers put up a little threat, getting runners on first and second with one out, but they once again could not bring anyone home. The result: the team’s 12th shutout loss of the year. Final Score: Carp 2, Tigers 0.
Series Notes: Gomez stranded 7 runners in his three failed at bats on Wednesday. He has not collected an RBI in 10 straight games now… The Tigers need to find a way to beat other teams’ aces. If they face the Carp in the playoffs, they will see plenty of Maeda, Johnson and Hiroki Kuroda. If they face the Giants, they will see Mikolas, Poreda, Sugano. If they face the Swallows they will see Ogawa and more. Fortunately for this team, the lead in the Central is still two games, and could reach 5 if they can sweep the Swallows at home this weekend. Two straight losses with little offense hurts, but GO TIGERS!