As has been the case in the Central League all season, winning streaks are followed by losing streaks, which are followed by winning streaks again. The Tigers had won 3 straight heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Dragons, but lost 5-0 in the series finale. Would it be the beginning of another losing streak, or could they pull off the rare feat of losing just one? Could they topple the Giants and avenge the 3-game sweep they swallowed last month? Would their oh-so-slim lead atop the CL hold up?
Game 1: Tuesdays have been unlucky days for the Tigers lately, and for the third straight week in a row, the opening game of their series got called because of rain (or typhoon, or both). This one will be played on Monday, September 28.
Game 2: The natural enemy of the team was back to tease them again. Miles Mikolas held the Tigers to a single hit last time out, needing just 95 pitches to go the distance. He looked ready to do the same here, needing 5 pitches to get through the first, then 15 in the second. No hits. Shintaro Fujinami got beaten late in his last tilt against the Giants, and held a 1-4 record against them this year. He allowed base runners in all but one of the seven innings he pitched, including 4 walks. However, the Tigers clawed out a run in the third on a Hayata Itoh hit, a bunt, a Fujinami single and a grounder. The lead was short-lived, as Fujinami looked to get out of a fourth inning jam but instead threw a comeback grounder several feet over Mauro Gomez‘s head. Then in the seventh, he got too cute with Giants captain Sakamoto, walking him, and then fell behind on veteran slugger Shinnosuke Abe, who eventually took a full count pitch to the right field stands. It looked bad for the Tigers, who were struggling to get anything going against Mikolas after the third, but Kosuke Fukudome led off the seventh with a single and advanced on a balk. Perhaps this rattled the import pitcher, as he gave up an RBI double to Gomez, who then got bunted over to third and scored on an Itoh sacrifice fly. Game tied after seven. The bottom of the eighth presented a golden opportunity for the Tigers, as runners were on the corners with one out for Matt Murton. His sharp grounder was scooped up by their third baseman, and two quick throws around the horn ended the threat. Both teams brought out their closers in the ninth, and another throwing error by a pitcher, this time Seung-hwan Oh, resulted in a no-outs, runner on third situation for the Giants. Our stone-faced idol-dating hurler was not intimidated, though. A grounder, infield pop-up and deep fly ended the ninth. He got into another little jam in the tenth, but calmly shut the door on the Rabbits again. Old man Yuya Andoh took over in the eleventh and easily took care of business. Then in the bottom half, Takashi Toritani led off with a single, advanced to second on (what else?) a bunt, giving Murton a chance at redemption. He made no mistake, driving a ball to the left-center gap off Canadian reliever Scott Mathieson. Captain T circled the bases, and victory was ours! A match for the ages! Final Score: Tigers 4, Giants 3.
Game 3: Once again the bat started slowly against the Giants stronger pitchers. Through five innings, we got no runs and it looks like another possible shut out. However, things started to look up in the sixth. Unfortunately, the team was already down 4-0 by then. An error in left field by Murton led to two runs in the second, and for the second straight game, the Giants’ cleanup hitter swatted a two-run homer, this time an inning earlier. Randy Messenger got the hook after the sixth, which is when our bats finally started to show signs of life. Toritani knocked in a run, and an inning later, Ryutaro Umeno hit a bases-loaded single in the seventh, narrowing the gap to 4-3. Andoh, who relieved a highly effective Kazuhito Futagami, gave up a solo home run in the top of the eighth, but the gap was reduced to one in the bottom of the inning on a Murton double play grounder. The Tigers got one more great chance in the ninth, as Hiroki Uemoto led off with a double, advanced on a (yawn) bunt, but two batters later remained stranded 90 feet from home. Final Score: Giants 5, Tigers 4.
Series Notes: Messenger pitched his 1000th career inning in NPB on Thursday… Kentaro Sekimoto made his return to the big club on Wednesday and appeared as a pinch hitter on Thursday. His eighth inning single helped contribute towards a run… Tsuyoshi Nishioka (elbow) is scheduled to play in farm games starting on September 15. He will likely only be used as a left-handed pinch hitter this year… Here are the standings as of Thursday night:
Side Note: It was wonderful to be able to take in another game at Koshien (my seventh there this year, plus one at Kyocera). It was even more amazing to watch it from 4 rows behind home plate! I got to see former Tiger greats Tomoaki Kanemoto and Norihiro Akahoshi in the broadcast booth several times (they were 15 rows up from my seats), and even paid a visit to a certain player’s family! Many thanks to the wonderful people I got to take in the game with (you know who you are!). Also, to the new Hanshin fans I met before the game from Chicago and Toronto, and the other members of Hanshin Tigers English News that I got to meet and talk with… you made this an amazing night! Being a Tigers fan is great, even when the team loses! (But it’s even better when the team wins!)