Randy Messenger looked invincible in the first inning. After that, the Chunichi bats and eyes made sure the bases were always occupied.
After a strikeout-ground out-strikeout first inning, rookie Shun Takayama recorded his first career hit on a two-strike grounder to left field. Only Shintaro Yokota‘s quickness prevented his groundout to pitcher from becoming a double play. Instead, he broke it up and then showed even more quickness by stealing second base. Newcomer Matt Hague smacked a 3-0 fastball to left center, scoring Yokota. Hague was thrown out at second on the play, but this was a sign of a different Tigers team than the one we saw in 2015.
Messenger allowed a hit and a walk in the second, then another hit and walk in the third. Combined with Takayama’s catching error, this meant three base runners in the inning. Fortunately the door was still sealed after three, and the Tigers precariously held a 1-0 lead heading into the fourth.
Unfortunately, this is where Messenger’s luck would run out. Two straight hits to start the inning were followed by a Hague error (which actually could have been called a hit). A sacrifice bunt later and the Dragons threatened to break this one wide open. A foul fly and a grounder later, and the damage was limited to one run.
Until the fifth, when a two-out walk was followed by two hits – one of which Tsuyoshi Nishioka could not squeeze in his glove enough to survive impact with the ground. The Dragons took the lead for the first, but not last time heading into the bottom of the inning.
Nishioka made up for his mistake by leading off the bottom half with a single. Taichi Okazaki got his first hit in four years next, and Nishioka made it to third (more aggressive running, but we’re not done here!). On Messenger’s weak grounder, Okazaki was out at second but Randy legged it out and prevented the double play. More aggressive running brought Nishioka home, as he only left from third after the throw to second base. The wily veteran pitcher noticed no one covering second, and took off on a steal attempt. The catcher threw to the vacant base, and Randy was able to advance to third. Unfortunately, the team could not take the lead back after that, as Takayama struck out and Yokota grounded out to end the inning.
The Dragons continued to put up skinny lines on the scoreboard, though. Pitcher Ohno led off the sixth with a single. Two outs later, a walk and a hit brought home the leading run. Things got worse in the seventh when two consecutive one-out singles were followed by a sacrifice bunt, then an intentional walk and an unintentional one, bringing the fourth run across the plate. Randy’s night was over, and another newcomer, Akifumi Takahashi, collected the third out on just one pitch.
Unfortuately third pitcher Naoto Tsuru allowed a leadoff home run to Dragons import Viciedo, and the game was out of hand.
By the time the Tigers got Ohno out of the game, the eighth inning was partly over. The Tigers could not cash in the runner on second, and they were down to their final three outs.
Despite the heart of the order being up, they all went down easy and the game ended without any drama.
FINAL SCORE: Chunichi Dragons 5, Hanshin Tigers 2
Notes: Messenger walked six and was actually hit quite hard, too, giving up 10 on the night… Mauro Gomez and Takashi Toritani were hitless on the night, and the Tigers managed just five hits (all singles)… The Dragons ended an 11-game losing streak against the Tigers at Kyocera Dome… Messenger shares the team lead in RBIs (with Hague) and stolen bases (with Yokota).