Despite a big win yesterday, the Tigers were still at a marked disadvantage in this one. First, they were still on the road, playing in a stadium where they had a 3-12 record this season including playoffs. Second, they needed a win, whereas the Giants could settle for a tie and advance. Third, they were facing a pitcher against whom they did not have great success. And using one who had a hard time at Tokyo Dome this season. Aaron Poreda sported a 5-2 record with a 2.44 ERA against these Tigers, whereas Atsushi Nohmi was 2-2 with a 5.01 ERA against the Giants, including 0-2 and 9.58 in Tokyo. But anything can happen in one-game showdowns like this, and the game is not played based on team history, but on nine innings of hard-fought baseball.
Reporter’s note: Since I could not watch the game live, and local Japanese TV only broadcast from 3pm on, the bulk of this report will focus on the final five innings of the game.
Innings 1-4: Nohmi gave up a lead-off triple to Tateoka (his second straight game doing so) and he was cashed in on Shinnosuke Abe’s sacrifice fly to left. Giants draw first blood. The Tigers could not manage to get anything going in these first four frames. No hits, no walks, no base runners. Poreda was doing what Sugano couldn’t the day before. For his part, Nohmi limited the Giants to just two hits and a walk over the three frames after allowing the first run, so the game was tight and could still go either way heading into the second half. SCORE: Giants 1, Tigers 0.
Top 5: Mauro Gomez sliced a double to the right field corner, and Matt Murton followed it with an infield single to third. Gomez was unable to advance, but the team would have three chances to tie the game. However, Kentaro Sekimoto and Taiga Egoshi struck out, and pinch hitter Ryota Arai feebly grounded out to shortstop. 2 hits, 0 runs.
Bottom 5: In what would be Nohmi’s final inning on the mound, he took care of business with ease, inducing an infield pop-up, a fly out to right and a grounder to second. 0 hits, 0 runs.
Top 6: Perhaps because runs were so crucial, Wada elected to pinch hit for Nohmi to lead off the inning. Hiroki Uemoto flied out to right. Then Takashi Toritani flied out to left on a hit that looked quite similar to (Giants’) Leslie Anderson’s home run the day before. This one did not quite make it out of the park, though. Yamato grounded out to second to end the inning without a base runner. 0 hits, 0 runs.
Bottom 6: Replacing Nohmi on the mound was Minoru Iwata, who is not used to the reliever role. Tateoka single, Kataoka bunt, Sakamoto single and the Giants were threatening to score. Abe lunged at a pitch and managed to direct it to right field, scoring a run and sending Sakamoto to third. Right after catcher Ryutaro Umeno gave explicit signals to Iwata, he threw a one-hopper that caromed off the catcher, just far enough away for Sakamoto to risk stealing home. He slid head first. Umeno dove head first, ball in glove. The result: safe at home. Another hit allowed brought Iwata’s afternoon to a quick end, and Hiroaki Saiuchi came in to put out the fire. He sandwiched an intentional walk between two strikeouts, and the damage was minimized, though significant enough to dampen the spirits of Tigers fans. Many will blame Iwata for a terrible inning, but the fact is, Sakamoto’s hit was nearly nabbed by Iwata on its way to center, Abe’s hit was a fine piece of batting, and the play at home, while his fault for throwing a cricket-style pitch, was close to resulting in an out and one less run. 4 hits, 1 walk, 1 wild pitch. SCORE: Giants 3, Tigers 0.
Top 7: Kosuke Fukudome wasted no time getting a run back for us. The second pitch he faced went straight to the right field bleachers, and Poreda’s night was over, much to his chagrin. Scott Mathieson replaced him and sat down Gomez and Murton with strikeouts, then Sekimoto with a fly ball to right. Great bit of hitting by Fukudome… too bad no one came up earlier in the inning to set the table for him. Could this be the final at bat for Murton in a Tigers’ uniform? Hope not! 1 hit. SCORE: Giants 3, Tigers 1.
Bottom 7: Giants are confident enough to give Mathieson an at bat. He struck out looking. Saiuchi allowed a hit between two fly balls, and the inning ended without much action or time elapsed. 1 hit, 0 runs.
Top 8: I don’t remember this one, I must have blinked. Mathieson induced three grounders, only one of which took more than a single pitch, and the Tigers were down to their final three outs. 0 hits, 0 runs.
Bottom 8: Shinobu Fukuhara replaced Saiuchi on the mound. Something about the old guy gives me confidence. He has a really smooth delivery and never looks phased. First out was a fly ball to center, then he allowed a hit, then a grounder to third (Sekimoto’s last play of his career) and after intentionally walking their lefty batter, got the third out on another fly ball. 1 hit, 1 walk, 0 runs.
Top 9: This is it. The last chance. The last dance. Closer Hirokazu Sawamura enters for the Giants. Toritani takes the second pitch and laces it to deep right, but cannot get extra bases out of it. That’s OK, because pinch hitter Tsuyoshi Nishioka blooped a single to center, and the tying run was on board! Three chances to tie or win with our three best hitters due up! Unfortunately, Fukudome grounded out (advancing the runners into scoring position), and Gomez struck out. It would all come down to Murton. Tying the game or hitting the game winning home run would surely cause management to consider bringing him back for 2016… alas, a grounder to short ended the game, the series and the season. 2 hits, 0 runs.
In the week to come, I will take more time to properly analyze the whole season. Until then, thanks for tuning in through the months. It’s been a rocky ride of a season. Win or lose, Tigers pride!