Nagoya Dome has almost never been kind to the Hanshin Tigers. Since its opening in 1997, the Tigers’ record in Nagoya is 77-145-5. But this is a team of ultra reform (cho-henkaku) right? Let’s look at how the Tigers’ record would change after this three-game set.
Game 18 – Friday, 4/15: Veteran Atsushi Nohmi had brought nothing but his A game through his first three starts. It would be generous to call this one his F game. He got blasted for 9 hits and 6 runs and left the mound after just two innings of work. The Tigers looked helpless at the plate, for their part, registering just four hits against starter Jordan Norberto and the Dragons relievers. Two of those hits came off the bats of rookies: Naomasa Yohkawa hit a single to left in his first career at bat, and Fumiya Hojoh continued to show flashes of brilliance with a double in the eighth. But when your lone positives on the night are two isolated hits that stayed in the ballpark, you know it hasn’t been a good night. (Side note: This was the first game all season that I was unable to watch any of… and I’m glad!) Final Score: Dragons 6, Tigers 0.
Game 19 – Saturday, 4/16: The earthquakes in southern Japan (Kumamoto Prefecture) affected the hearts of the entire nation, but for Kumamoto native Yuta Iwasada, it was more unsettling than for most. Though his family was safe, surely he had a lot on his mind as he took to the mound to start this one. Despite being in a hard place mentally, the third-year pro delivered his third consecutive strong outing and became just the 9th pitcher in NPB (history?) to record double-digit strikeouts in three consecutive starts. He went seven strong, giving up just 4 hits, no walks, and striking out 10. The Tigers’ bats remained silent until the fifth inning, when a combination of hits and walks brought in three runs – a Tsuyoshi Nishioka double, a Taiga Egoshi sacrifice fly and a Mauro Gomez single doing the damage. The score remained favorable until the eighth, when Shinobu Fukuhara walked one, gave up a run-scoring triple to the next, and proceeded to sit down. Akifumi Takahashi, who until last season suited up for the Dragons, sat down the three hitters he faced, but the second out resulted in a second run for the home team. All that was left was for Marcos Mateo to record the last three outs of the game… but he only got one. Though Viciedo failed to homer against us for the first time this season, he did hit a leadoff double, and from there the walls came crumbling down. In the end, the Tigers tasted their second walkoff defeat of the season. Final Score: Dragons 4, Tigers 3.
Game 20 – Sunday, 4/17: To avoid a sweep, the Tigers simply had to beat a pitcher that they hit hard in their opening series, and get a decent start out of their own Minoru Iwata, who had struggled up to this point in 2016. Oh, and the bullpen would need to show itself strong when the game was on the line – something they had not done in awhile. The Dragons got on the board early and the Tigers offense looked out of sorts against Drew Naylor… but in the fourth inning, Egoshi led off with a single, advanced on a groundout, stole third and tied the game on an errant throw. The tie would be short-lived, though, as the Dragons plated another man in the bottom of the sixth. Iwata would get pulled immediately after that run, which came off three consecutive hits. The relievers held on tight for four innings, and in the top of the ninth, Toritani hit a one-out single. Pinch hitter (and eventual replacement catcher) Ryota Imanari put the pressure on with another single, and the tying run came home on Kosuke Fukudome‘s pinch hit single. Unfortunately, the bullpen could not hold the game any longer in the tenth. Kazuya Takamiya pitched a lead-off walk and Fukuhara came in and faced the Tigers’ new nemesis, Viciedo. The result couldn’t have been worse: another walk-off hit, this one a home run off the right field pole. Final Score: Dragons 4, Tigers 2.
Series Notes: Fukudome did not start in this series at all after pulling his left hamstring in Thursday’s game against the BayStars. His lone at bat was a pinch hit RBI single in the 9th inning of Sunday’s loss. Shintaro Yokota took over in center while Egoshi slid over to right, where Fukudome usually plays… Shun Takayama was also not in the lineup on Saturday because of what manager Tomoaki Kanemoto called a “locked elbow.” He is day-to-day but started on Sunday… The three straight losses helped the Dragons leapfrog the Tigers in the standings.