The lead had evaporated. With 18 games to go, the most crucial games of the season started in this series. How would the team respond? Could they defeat the underachieving Carp? Take back first place? Let’s see how this one played out.
Game 1: I was able to watch this one from the first base side in the Ivy Seats. The game could not have started worse. A fielding error on a leadoff bunt must have thrown Minoru Iwata off, because after that he struggled to throw strikes and get outs. Somehow, though, he only gave up two runs in his 5 2/3 innings of work (5 hits, 5 walks, 7 strikeouts). The first one was in the third inning, a product of another throwing error on Iwata’s part, which came between two base hits. The second was in the sixth when Iwata foolishly walked the #8 batter to get to the pitcher, whom he also walked. Then an infield hit (looked like better fielding/throwing would have prevented it) brought a run home. He was pulled before the inning ended. Kazuhito Futagami closed off the sixth, but allowed a run in the seventh. Kazuya Takamiya got four straight outs and Hiroaki Saiuchi pitched a good ninth (picked off the runner that he walked) to end the game. Final Score: Carp 3, Tigers 0.
Game 2: This one did not start any better. A leadoff walk was followed by a hit and a sacrifice fly to give the Carp an early lead. Fortunately, the Tigers’ bats showed up enough to even the score in the bottom of the inning. Kosuke Fukudome‘s single scored Takashi Toritani. The Carp replied in the fourth with a monster home run from Eldred (how many times will he victimize us the rest of the way?) but the Tigers got that one back in the bottom of the fifth, as starter Atsushi Nohmi blooped a two-out single to left, Toritani advanced him to third and Yamato knocked him in. Nohmi got in trouble in the sixth (two walks, two wild pitches) but escaped without allowing another go-ahead run to the visitors. He dodged the bullet in the seventh before sitting down in favor of a pinch hitter. The bats gave him a golden chance to earn the win in the bottom of the inning, as they loaded the bases with one out. Unfortunately Yamato grounded out to short and Matt Murton struck out, and the score remained knotted heading into the eighth. The score remained tied right to the end, despite the Tigers getting numerous chances to take the lead. In total, 13 men were left stranded on base. Our relievers – Shinobu Fukuhara (8th), Seung-hwan Oh (9th & 10th) and Yuya Andoh (11th & 12th, with Takamiya getting the final out) – held on admirably and this one ended with no winner. Final Score: Tigers 2, Carp 2.
Game 3: The big American struck early again. No, not ours. Eldred hit a solo shot off starter Suguru Iwazaki in the second to give the visitors the lead yet again. He hung tough until the sixth, when a one-out double resulted in his being pulled. That run would eventually score on a double-steal (a play on which Takamiya blanked out, according to Manager Wada – he should have caught the throw from catcher), and the two-run lead held until the ninth, when Oh gave up a two-out double and an RBI single. The Tigers once again managed just three hits and two walks, never getting a runner past second. Final Score: Carp 3, Tigers 0.
Series Notes: Friday was the fourteenth time the Tigers got shut out this season, and they managed just three base runners against MLB returnee Hiroki Kuroda. The top 8 CL pitchers have a 20-2 record against the Tigers this year. This does not bode well for the playoffs… Keisuke Kanoh has been diagnosed with a broken right pinkie finger (HBP by Giants’ closer Sawamura on Thursday) and will need up to a month to heal… Hiroki Uemoto pulled his left hamstring in Friday’s loss and was placed on the 10-day disabled list. Outfielder Masahiro Nakatani was called up in his place… The latest news reports have infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka (right elbow ligament) making his return to the field on September 17th for the team’s second squad… Murton went 0-for-14 in the series and 1-for-23 on the week. He really did not look like his head was in the games. Some of that appeared to come from frustration with the umpires calls on balls and strikes. Perhaps they were questionable calls, but the team needs more composure from their “hitting machine”… Here are the standings as of the end of play on Sunday: