@ Giants – September 22-23, 2015

Just avoid the September sputter. That’s all the Tigers had to do in order to hold on to first and clinch their first pennant in a decade. But the final month of regular season play has not been a good one for the Tigers in recent years, and this year was starting to look like no exception. Heading into this series, the team was 6-8-1 on the month, and had an awful 2-9 record at Tokyo Dome on the year. This was truly a make-or-break series, one the Tigers could not afford to lose. By the end of the series, the team would experience losses that went beyond baseball.

Game 1: The Tigers’ continued misery against top-notch pitchers. The Giants brought their young ace Tomoyuki Sugano to the mound, and he dominated as he has all year against this team. Just four hits all game yielded us our sixteenth shutout loss on the year. Sophomore Suguru Iwazaki‘s debut against the Giants, a six-inning one-run effort, went for naught, and the relievers that followed him (Ryoma Matsuda and Hiroaki Saiuchi, each giving up a run) did not help things. Final Score: Giants 3, Tigers 0.

Game 2: Randy Messenger came to the mound and tried, for the third time, to collect his tenth win. A home run against the second batter of the game did not help, but after that the veteran import settled in nicely, holding the home team scoreless for the next 5 innings. During that time, the Tigers managed to tie the score at one (Kosuke Fukudome knocking in Takashi Toritani, something we have seen all summer with regularity). Unfortunately in the bottom of the seventh, a lazy looking single to left field turned into a two-base hit, and two batters later, the Giants had the lead back. Messenger would leave the mound with loss number 13 looming. Fortunately the Tigers took that off his shoulders with a Ryota Imanari lead-off double in the ninth, followed by an exhilirating a predictable bunt to move him over to third base. Pinch hitter Kentaro Sekimoto delivered the game-tying RBI, and advanced to second after Toritani walked, but Yamato once again failed to deliver in the clutch, and the score remained tied heading into the bottom of the frame. Closer Seung-hwan Oh, who locked down the eighth inning, was unable to do the same in the ninth, and the Giants won another walk-off against the Tigers. Final Score: Giants 3, Tigers 2.

Series Notes: The two losses in Tokyo cemented the Tigers’ fate. Their chances of winning the pennant are slim-to-none now, and their chances at hosting playoff games have also been severely reduced… Matsuda had been recalled Tuesday morning to help bolster the bullpen, but got sent down in favor of rookie Taiga Egoshi the next day… An even bigger loss for the Tigers was the sudden death of general manager Katsuhiro Nakamura (66), who was found dead on his hotel bed in Tokyo on Wednesday morning. He was said to have suffered from cardiac arrest. Players were notified after the game, and all were left speechless. Nakamura was in attendance at Tuesday’s game and showed no signs of ill health. We offer our sincere condolences to the club and Mr. Nakamura’s family and friends.

 15-9-23 Standings

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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.