The Hanshin Tigers looked to continue their dominance against Chunichi under the dome in Osaka as the 2016 season raised its veil. Could they extend the 11-game win streak at Kyocera against the rebuilding Dragons?
Game 1, Friday 3/25: As reported earlier this weekend (click here for recap), the series started on a rough note for the home boys. Randy Messenger struggled with his control and allowed double digit hits, and the bats mustered very little offense after the third inning as the team fell in the opener. Final Score: Dragons 5, Tigers 2.
Game 2, Saturday 3/26: Now that the Tigers got the Dragons ace (Yudai Ohno) out of the way, their job at the plate would be a little easier. Matt Hague ripped a first-inning double to left but was left stranded in the bottom of the first. Two innings later, the offense took off. Taichi Okazaki led off with a walk, Shun Takayama stroked a double to right center to bring him home, and Hague ripped his second double of the night to left center. The fireworks display came back on two innings later. An infield hit by Shintaro Yokota (first of the season for him) was followed by Hague getting plunked. Mauro Gomez came up with one out and smashed a ball halfway to Koshien that may or may not yet have landed in the left field stands. Momentum was in the Tigers’ favor as the next three batters got hits: Takashi Toritani with his first on the year, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Okazaki, who got his first career RBI. All this time, starter Atsushi Nohmi was cruising, allowing just a few hits while striking out five through five. In the sixth, new Dragons import Viciedo hit another home run. A few hits and an error led to a second run, but the Tigers bounced back in the sixth with a couple of hits and a hitter reaching by error, too. Reliever Kazuya Takamiya had control issues in the seventh, allowing a run on an infield hit, a wild pitch and two ground balls, but that was all for the Dragons. Shinobu Fukuhara and Marcos Mateo shut the door in the final two innings, and manager Tomoaki Kanemoto had his first win as manager of the Tigers. Final Score: Tigers 7, Dragons 3.
Game 3, Sunday 3/27: Making his official return to the Tigers on Sunday was one-time outstanding closer Kyuji Fujikawa, who has revamped his game and is now a starter. The Tigers got him help early, as Kosuke Fukudome brought Yokota home on a line drive to right field. In the second inning, Takayama hit a triple down the right field line (to end an 11-pitch at-bat!), driving in starting catcher Ryutaro Umeno, and Yokota followed it up with a chopper over the head of a drawn in Dragons third baseman. Fukudome led off the bottom of the third with a first-pitch long ball to the right field upper deck, and the lead was four runs after the game was just a third complete. That, however, is when Fujikawa started to lose control. The Dragons chipped away at the lead with two runs in the fourth (with Viciedo hitting yet another bomb), and two more in the fifth. That was the end of Kyuji’s outing, and he would have to settle for a no-decision. One inning later, though, the man everyone worried about in the preseason came through again. With runners on the corners and two outs, Hague found the gap between first and second, easily bringing the winning run home. The relief squad held on once again, and the Tigers escaped a near-collapse and took the first series of the season. Final Score: Tigers 5, Dragons 4.
Series Notes: Hague hit RBIs in all three games and also drew two walks and got hit by a pitch as well. His on-base percentage after three games is a team-high .538… Viciedo became the first foreigner in NPB history to homer in each of his first three games from season’s start. The only other player to do it before him, Kila Ka’aihue of the Hiroshima Carp, did it in his mid-season debut… The Tigers have stolen three bases so far, putting them on a (near-impossible) 143-steal pace, which would triple their 2015 output… Mateo earned his first career NPB save on Sunday, striking out the final two batters he faced, including Viciedo… All 27 players on the Tigers’ active roster saw action during the series. Three of the hitters are likely to face demotion to make roster space for the starters against Yakult early next week.