@ Baystars – April 1-3 – Tigers Wake Up After April Fools’ Scare

Though the high school baseball tournament has been over for a few days already, the Tigers continue to play ball away from Koshien to start the season. They split their series at Jingu against the Swallows evenly (1-1-1) despite giving up 14 runs in the last two games. They would continue the road trip in Yokohama on the weekend. Could their pitchers find a way to shut down the impressive BayStars bats?

0401-03BayStars

Game 7 – Friday 4/1: One expects that games at Yokohama Stadium would result in a lot of runs and plenty of power. But on this night, ‘Stars starter Inoh and Hanshin starter Atsushi Nohmi would have none of that. The two veteran hurlers combined to allow just one run and no extra-base hits through eight innings. That lone run came in the top of the 4th, when Tsuyoshi Nishioka collected his first RBI of the season. His seeing-eye grounder found its way to shallow right field, just deep enough to score Kosuke Fukudome, who reached base earlier on an infield single that bounced off the pitcher’s glove. Besides these two hits, the Tigers managed just two others on the night, and never really threatened to score in any other inning. After exhausting nearly the whole bullpen the night before, and with Nohmi pitching extremely effectively, Kanemoto decided to roll the dice with him in the bottom of the ninth.

Someone please tell me this is an April Fool's joke. Why won't they give me more run support? And did that first pitch really get taken for a ride?

Someone please tell me this is an April Fool’s joke. Why won’t they give me more run support? And did that first pitch really get taken for a ride?

The first pitch showed that this was the wrong move, as slugger Tsutsugoh clobbered it over the left field wall. Four hitters and two outs later, Nohmi’s night was over, with the score tied 1-1 and runners on first and second. Reliever Hiroaki Saiuchi needed just two pitches to get the job done end the game – a line drive to left brought home the winning run with ease, and the game was over. Final Score: BayStars 2, Tigers 1.

Game 8 – Saturday 4/2: For the first time this young season, the Tigers would use a young, unestablished pitcher. The man who won the job was Yuta Iwasada, who won the MVP of Taiwan’s Winter Baseball League. He started well at spring training but was slowed by injury in the latter half. In the last three games on the farm, though, he was the brightest of the potential parent club starters, so he got the nod. He got some help early in the first, when a running miscue by Tsutsugoh ended a threat. The bats did not help him at all through five innings, with just two hits and a walk, each coming in a different inning. The sixth saw Shintaro Yokota bloop a single to right, Fukudome hit one of his own, and Mauro Gomez draw his second walk of the game. Due up was Takashi Toritani, who was in a career-worst 0-for-26 slump. At long last, the scoreboard saw something other than a bagel as he lashed a single just east of the shortstop, scoring two runs. Iwasada cruised along after the first inning, only to run into trouble again in the bottom of the fourth. A near-home run by Tsutsugoh instead put runners on second and third with just one out. Then he walked the next batter to load the bases. However, he calmly induced a pop-out to second and struck out the final batter, keeping the ‘Stars off the scoreboard.

I'm making this look so easy, but really it's not!

I’m making this look so easy, but really it’s not!

Those two innings aside, Iwasada was untouchable, as he went seven strong and struck out twelve, only allowing runners in those two innings. Could the relief squad hold on to the slim lead? Shinobu Fukuhara did his part in the eighth, mowing down the side, and then in the top of the ninth, Shun Takayama knocked in two with a double to the gap in left center. He would advance on a ground ball and score on a wild pitch, putting the game out of reach with just three outs to go. Kazuya Takamiya, who struggled mightily in his previous two outings, kept the bases clean and the game ended in a shutout win. Final Score: Tigers 5, BayStars 0.

Game 9 – Sunday 4/3: Takayama seems to have found a way to start the offense early. His leadoff single was followed by a balk, a Matt Hague single and a Fukudome sacrifice fly to score the game’s first run. But the fireworks were far from over. Gomez found the left field stands in arguably his favorite ballpark in Japan, putting the score at 3-0 after one.

Gomez continues to roll. Five of his seven hits on the season have been multi-bag, including 4 homers.

Gomez continues to roll. Five of his seven hits on the season have been multi-bag, including 4 homers.

Starter Kyuji Fujikawa started quite shakily, walking one and plunking one in the first, then walking two more in the second. Fortunately no runs scored, and he went four more strong innings, allowing just two base runners (on single hits). The Tigers offense rekindled in the sixth with a Fukudome RBI double, and in the seventh with a Fumiya Hojoh pinch-hit solo shot. They scored yet again in the eighth on another Fukudome hit, and punished the BayStars further in the ninth with a Taiga Egoshi pinch-hit two-run home run. Recently promoted reliever Kazuyuki Kaneda let the ‘Stars take out some of their frustrations on him in the ninth, surrendering three hits and walking one while also throwing a wild pitch to give the home side three runs. However, this one was way out of the reach of the home team, and the Tigers were able to give KNM48 (that’s KaNeMoto, now age 48) a victory on his birthday. Final Score: Tigers 8, BayStars 3.

Series Notes: Second baseman Hiroki Uemoto was demoted to the farm in order to make roster space for Iwasada… Oft-injured reliever Ryoma Matsuda returned from a right shoulder inflammation on Saturday to throw in an exhibition game at Naruohama… Hojoh’s home run on Sunday was also his first career hit in 4 at bats… Yamato also recorded his first hit of the season, driving a double to the left-center gap in the ninth inning… Fujikawa’s victory was his first as a pro starter in 4580 days… The Tigers will wrap up their 9-game road trip with three at Tokyo Dome against the Yomiuri Giants. The teams are currently 1.5 games apart in the 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.