It’s hard coming home after a bad day at work. Or maybe it’s comforting? The Hanshin Tigers got swept and humiliated in three games in Nagoya against the Chunichi Dragons. Could they right the ship at Koshien against the defending CL champion Yakult Swallows?
Game 21 – Tuesday, 4/19: Surely young ace Shintaro Fujinami would put together a better game than he did on his birthday a week ago. Right? Wrong. Fortunately for him, the Tiger eight in front of him (in the batting lineup) got to Swallows starter Naruse early and often. Tsuyoshi Nishioka brought two runs home on a first-inning double, giving Fujinami an early lead. That lead, unfortunately, was coughed up almost immediately, as the Swallows fought back with a barrage of hits, sprinkled with a couple of generous walks, in the top of the second. The Swallows would take the lead the very next inning, though, and most of the “credit” can go to Fujinami: a walk, stolen base and wild pitch put the man on third. Fortunately, the Tigers tied it in the bottom half – Yamato‘s double led to a Mauro Gomez RBI sacrifice fly. Fujinami simply could not shut down the juggernaut that is the Swallows hitters, giving up a fourth run (and second lead) in the fourth. (Again, he led the inning off with a walk – four straight balls to their pitcher!) Once again, he was bailed out in the bottom of the frame, as Nishioka hit, advanced to second on a wild pitch, to third on a Naomasa Yohkawa infield single, and scored on a double play. Then in the eighth, the game field tilted in favor of the hometown heroes. The team made a mess of new Swallows reliever Perez, spraying hits all over the field and doubling the lead to four. Takashi Toritani bloop-singled the winning run home, then Keisuke Kanoh hit a sacrifice fly, Kosuke Fukudome pinch-hit an RBI single to right, and Shun Takayama legged out an infield single to score another. With a comfortable lead in the top of the ninth, newly promoted Rafael Dolis took to the mound, shutting the Swallows down 1-2-3, striking out the final batter to properly punctuate this game. The losing streak was over at three! Final Score: Tigers 8, Swallows 4.
Game 22 – Wednesday, 4/20: The starting rotation underwent a shift late last week, requiring the team to trot out a new pitcher for this one. Koki Moriya, the team’s 4th round pick in 2014, made his first professional appearance against the best hitters in the CL while opposing submarine hurler Yamanaka on the mound. This combination didn’t work well, as Moriya coughed up the lead early on three hits. The two-run deficit was cut in half by a Gomez solo shot in the bottom of the inning, but that was all we heard out of the Tigers bats. For his part, Moriya continued to serve up hits to the hungry Swallows, including a long, deep shot to the left field stands by reigning MVP Tetsuto Yamada. He left the game down 3 and with the bases juiced and no outs. Hiroaki Saiuchi bailed him out, though, allowing just one run on a walk. The rest of the game had a mix of Tigers relievers shutting down the enemy’s offense, but the bats did not generate any more scoring opportunities. Final Score: Swallows 5, Tigers 1.
Game 23 – Thursday, 4/21: Oh how sad for the fine people of Kurashiki, Okayama! The one NPB game they were slated to host got rained out. This one will be made up later in the year, but at Koshien Stadium instead of the small town in the middle of nowhere.
Series Notes: Third baseman Matt Hague, who was struggling at the plate, was sent down to the farm. This move was made more as a way to shore up the struggling bullpen – with the four import rule in place, the only way to promote Dolis was to drop one of the foreigners from the first squad. No word on how long this move will last, but Dolis pitched another shutout inning on Wednesday… Fukudome continues to remain out of the starting lineup, but has pinch hit a few times since tweaking his left hamstring last Thursday… The rain on Thursday pushed the rotation back a day and should result in a Messenger/Nohmi/Iwasada starting trio against the Carp this weekend. Here are the current standings.