After a disappointing opening series at Koshien against the Carp, the Tigers were determined to continue their push to the top against the Yokohama DeNA BayStars at home this week. With the Giants and Carp playing so well early in the season, they would need every win they could get against the young team led by Alex Ramirez.
Game 16 – Tuesday, 4/12: Shintaro Fujinami said that starting on his birthday was nothing special, and that it would be business as usual for him. His early inning struggles continued on this day, so I guess business was going just as planned. The BayStars jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a Jose Lopez single to left. The Tigers would roar back in the bottom half, though. Two two-out walks put runners on for slugger Mauro Gomez, who punished a Yasutomo Kubo pitch to deep left center for a 2-run double. He would come home on a Tsuyoshi Nishioka single, padding the lead for the 22-year old starter. Fujinami settled in nicely after that, despite a fairly high pitch count heading into the seventh inning. At the dish, he sparked another mini-rally with his first career triple. With the score 4-1 heading into the “lucky 7”, a no-out error by shortstop Takashi Toritani led to a barrage of hits (and walks) for the visitors, and Fujinami’s night ended with just one out and the threat of a lead change. Two runs had come in to score, and Kazuya Takamiya could not extinguish the fire alone. Recently recalled reliever Yuya Andoh faced a bases-loaded, two outs situation with a skinny one-run lead. Three pitches later, the Tigers fielders jogged back to the dugout, and perhaps the most relieved — literally — man was Fujinami, who was still in line for his third win on the year. The bats provided no more insurance, but they didn’t need to – Marcos Mateo shut down the BayStars bats in succession in the ninth, and the losing streak was over at two. Final Score: Tigers 4, BayStars 3.
Game 17 – Wednesday, 4/13: Inclement weather in western Japan resulted in a postponed game. It is to be played on Friday, September 16 at Koshien Stadium.
Game 17 (take 2) – Thursday, 4/14: The matchup everyone wanted to see took place in the bottom of the first: BayStars pitcher Imanaga, chosen in Round 1 of the 2015 draft, faced Shun Takayama, also a first round pick in the same draft. The two could potentially face each other over a hundred times over the course of their promising careers. Round 1 went to the hitter, but the infield single went for naught as the young ace shut down the rest of the bats in the first. The first score of the game came the next inning, when a Gomez fly ball was dropped, and the big man scampered to third on the error. He was cashed in on a Matt Hague sacrifice fly. The BayStars evened the score on a delayed steal of home in the fifth. It would be the lone run surrendered by starter Randy Messenger, who was mostly in control of this one. He scattered eight hits (all singles) and walked none in eight solid innings. Fortunately for him, the run support did not end with just one.
In the sixth, Takayama and Toritani hit singles, Taiga Egoshi drove in one with an opposite field double high off the wall, and Shintaro Yokota brought one more home with a single of his own. Then in the bottom of the eighth, to ensure Randy got the win, Gomez hit his league-tying fifth homer of the season – a two-run shot. One inning later, Tsutsugoh took back his lead in homers, barely clearing the left field wall on Takamiya’s first and only pitch of the game. Mateo came in to preserve the victory, striking out two of the three batters he faced. Final Score: Tigers 5, BayStars 2.
Series Notes: Wednesday’s rain pushed Minoru Iwata’s next start back to Sunday. The Tigers elected to send struggling starter Kyuji Fujikawa down to the farm to work on his form. He is eligible to return in time for his next scheduled start on April 24th in Hiroshima… Ryosuke Ogata was called up to fill the roster spot opened by Kyuji. Meanwhile, Naomasa Yohkawa was hitting so well on the farm (.353 with 5 HRs) that he received a promotion to the top team on Wednesday. Fumiya Araki will spend some time on the farm while Kanemoto gets a better look at Yohkawa… Hague returned from a high fever that had kept him out of Sunday’s lineup. He played half of Tuesday’s game and was pulled for a pinch runner on Thursday after his seventh inning single… Kosuke Fukudome injured what appeared to be his left thigh while rounding first base in the fourth inning Thursday. No details of the injury’s severity have been divulged yet. He was replaced by Yokota… The Tigers, along with the Carp, moved ahead of the Giants and into first place. Full standings can be seen here.