vs. Giants, BayStars – September 28-29, 2015

The 12-in-12 could not have been going any worse than it had up to this point. Two wins and eight losses, with the lone wins coming against the Yakult Swallows (1-1) and Hiroshima Carp (1-2). Two losses each at the hands of the BayStars and Giants, plus one against the Chunichi Dragons, completely eliminated the Tigers’ already fading hopes of a title. These next two games would go a long way toward determining their playoff fate. After a 6-game road trip, a return to Koshien Stadium was much needed.

Game 1: The season series against the Yomiuri Giants leaned strongly in favor of the orange rabbits, so Shintaro Fujinami and company wanted to at least take game 25 on the year. Despite finding himself in a jam early, Fujinami kept the Giants quiet all night. The Tigers’ bats got him an early lead against Aaron Poreda. In the bottom of the first, Takashi Toritani led off with a hit, advanced to second on a bunt by Yamato (how many times have I typed this in the past two months?) and after a wild pitch, came home on a Matt Murton single. An error later, Ryota Arai grounded out but broke up the double play and Murton scored the game’s second run. It turned out to be the last of the game, as Fujinami kept things fairly clean until the eighth and ninth, when he got into some trouble but also found his way out. The season series ended on a positive note, and the Tigers’ losing streak was over at two. Final Score: Tigers 2, Giants 0.

Game 2: While Fujinami collected his 14th win of the year, Randy Messenger was just looking for his 10th. He faced the struggling DeNA Baystars, but found himself in a hole early, as the visitors got three straight hits to open the second inning. He settled down after that, though, and did not give up another run through seven. For once, he left the mound with a chance to earn the win, as the bats gave him a 2-1 lead in the sixth (Toritani single, balk, Yamato single, Murton single, Ryota Imanari single), and then extended it to 3-1 in the seventh (Taiga Egoshi double, Akihito Fujii single, Kosuke Fukudome sacrifice fly). Just two innings of good relief pitching would earn him the victory. Unfortunately, four relievers (switched “strategically” to create “favorable” lefty-lefty & right-righty matchups) were unable to hold it, and the Baystars tied the game up in the eighth. Messenger would not earn the win, but the team pulled out an unexpected victory when Egoshi struck out but ran safely to first on the wild pitch, then took second and third on an error by their first baseman, and made it home on another wild pitch. Somehow they achieved a walk-off win without recording a hit or walk in the inning. Final Score: Tigers 4, Baystars 3.

Game Notes: Nelson Perez made his debut in right field on Monday, replacing the injured Fukudome, who will not start again until the playoffs at earliest. Perez went 0-for-2 with a walk on Monday and 0-for-3 on Tuesday… Hiroki Uemoto has been practicing at Naruohama, fielding grounders in hopes of returning for the playoffs… Veterans Kentaro Sekimoto, Ryo Watanabe and Kosuke Katoh announced their retirements at the end of this season. The latter two were told they would not receive a contract offer next season, while Sekimoto said he reached his decision after his second trip to the DL this year. Infielder Haruki Kurose was also cut on October 1, with more cuts expected later this week… Manager Yutaka Wada’s firing has been made official, although he will continue at the helm until season’s end. His replacement is expected to be announced soon, and will likely be former Tiger great Tomoaki Kanemoto.

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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.