vs. Dragons – September 15, 2015

 Once again I had the privilege of attending a game with a good friend and being able to sit in a good section. I was 17 rows behind the Tigers’ dugout, so I got to see the players coming off the field every inning, high fiving each other, and so on. Tonight our opponent was the last place Chunichi Dragons, and although we have had a good time against them this season, we were up against their ace, Yudai Ohno, who had a season record of 3-0 and an ERA of 0.69 (in 5 games) against these Tigers.

The key would be to get hits early and often. We took care of the “early” part, and thankfully it was by a player in dire need of one. Matt Murton smoked a first inning pitch over third base into the left field corner for a double. Unfortunately he was stranded there and the inning ended.

In the second, Mauro Gomez led off with a harmless grounder to through shortstop (gotta love free base runners against the other team’s ace) and Ryota Arai took the first pitch he saw deep over the center field wall (video here). Nice to score two early runs against a guy who has baffled our bats all year.

That would be all the fireworks as far as runs go, until later in the game. The Tigers manufactured a great chance in the fifth inning when Kazunari Tsuruoka hit a leadoff double (video here), Shintaro Fujinami bunted him over to third, and Takashi Toritani walked. With runners on first and third and just one out, Yamato grounded out, but Tsuruoka clumsily delayed the inevitable tag out at home long enough for Toritani and Yamato to advance into scoring position. Murton was unable to convert them with two outs, and the threat ended.

In the eighth, Yamato hit a one-out single to left, and a botched pick-off attempt resulted in a free pass to third base. Murton brought him home on a sacrifice fly, padding the lead to three.

For his part on the mound, Fujinami was strong all night. He allowed an uncharacteristic 7 hits and a typical 3 walks, but also struck out 9 (reaching the 200 K plateau on the season). His hits were also spread out – never more than two in an inning – and the Dragons were unable to get on the board all night. Fujinami collected his 13th win of the year, tying him with Kenta Maeda (Carp) for the league lead. Closer Seung-hwan Oh took care of the ninth for his league-leading 40th save of the year.

Final Score: Tigers 3, Dragons 0.

Comments: I was not as impressed as most with this one. It was good to see the Tigers take advantage of the other team’s mistakes, mind you, as two of our runs were the direct result of bad defense by the last place Dragons. We may not receive gift runs like this from tougher competition, so the bats need to come through more in situations like the fifth inning. Fujinami pitched well but was still not as dominant as I’d like to see him. I’m still waiting for him to throw a no-hitter or perfect game at some point — he has that much potential! This win was expected and necessary, considering the team was winless in four heading into tonight. Hopefully we can ride this wave into Yokohama over the weekend, because after that we play 7 of the next 8 games against the “better” teams in the Central!

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T-Ray is the founder, chief writer and Junior Executive Vice President of Hanshin Tigers English News (H-TEN). Find him on Twitter @thehanshintiger.