Back to Koshien at last. With two teams still breathing down the Tigers’ necks, they needed a strong series against one of those teams, and the red-hot Yakult Swallows came to town looking to take first place from the suddenly weary-looking Hanshin Tigers. Let’s take a look at how the first professional baseball at Koshien in 26 days went down.
Game 1: The full house must have spurred the team to please its fans on this night. An error and two hits loaded the bases with no outs in the second, and Hayata Itoh hit a sacrifice fly to score the first run of the game. It would be all Shintaro Fujinami would need on this night. The 21-year old gunslinger went the distance, giving up just three hits to a squad that boasts the top average, home run hitter and RBI man in the league – and they’re all different guys! Friday night, the Tigers looked much more fearsome than the birds. Twelve hits, nine runs (including Mauro Gomez‘s first RBIs in 2 weeks), and a satisfied crowd. Other contributors with the stick included Takashi Toritani, Ryota Imanari, Hiroki Uemoto, Shunsuke (2) and Katsuhiko Saka. All-round team effort. Every starting fielder got at least a hit or an RBI. Final Score: Tigers 9, Swallows 0.
Game 2: The first pitch of the game was a hit for the bad guys, and their speedster made it to third on a stolen base and a ground out. A shot up the middle made it 1-0 after the first half, but Toritani doubled and was brought home by Kosuke Fukudome in the home half. Randy Messenger settled in beautifully through seven after that, and in the bottom of the sixth, despite a terrible start to the inning (2 pitches to get the first two outs), the team rallied and scored on an Akihito Fujii single. The lead didn’t last long, though, as the Swallows flexed their muscles in the eighth. Messenger got knocked out after an RBI triple gave the visitors a lead they would not relinquish. Several relievers later, the home team found itself down 8-2 by the time their last frame came around. Only an Uemoto home run made the score look a little better, but in the end, the series was evened out at one apiece after this one. Another night of frustration for our big import, who got just 2 runs of support in his 7+ innings of work. Final Score: Swallows 8, Tigers 4.
Game 3: The Tigers needed a quick start in this one, and got it. The recently successful Toritani walk, Uemoto bunt and Fukudome hit put the home team in the lead after one inning. Things stayed that way until the recently steady Suguru Iwazaki fell apart in the fourth inning, looking a lot like he did in July. The Swallows bludgeoned the Tigers to the tune of 7 runs, then added another in the fifth. Tiger hits were few and far between, and they were once again unable to convert any of their chances. When the dust settled, the Tigers were blown out once again, getting a few “garbage time” runs once again tonight, as they have done most of the week. Final Score: Swallows 11, Tigers 8.
Series Notes: Messenger recorded his 900th career NPB strikeout in the top of the 6th inning on Saturday. He is 3rd all-time among foreigners… Matt Murton needs just 1 more hit to reach 1000 in his NPB career. It is tops among Hanshin imports but still not top-10 in NPB history… Toritani is about to surpass manager Yutaka Wada in hits for third place in club history.