Unable to get on a good roll and heading to a park that seldom helped them last year, the Tigers needed good pitching from their starters – something that has been their downfall most of the past week. Could the team use Thursday’s rainout to straighten out some of their problems? The tale of the tape says two peaks and one valley. And perhaps more encouraging, the possible awakening of Bird Valley (Toritani 鳥谷).
Game 23 – Friday, 4/22: Carp fans were greeted at the game by a hungry Tigers lineup: an RBI double by Yamato was followed by an RBI single by Taiga Egoshi, then a sacrifice fly by Takashi Toritani two batters later. The early huge lead evaporated as quickly as it was built up: starter Randy Messenger did not record an out until the score was evened. He even spotted the Carp a lead before getting out of the inning. Fortunately the bats stayed awake for the remainder of the game – Toritani’s 3-run home run in the top of the second brought the lead back up to three. On this night, however, seven runs would not be enough to win. Messenger finished just five innings but allowed seven runs on 11 hits and a walk. That didn’t matter though, because he left the game with a four-run pad, thanks to Mauro Gomez and Toritani RBIs in the third, and then another Toritani sacrifice fly (his sixth RBI of the night) and a Ryota Imanari RBI single to shortstop. Even then, this lead did not feel safe. But in the end, it was – Tsuyoshi Nishioka got in on the RBI action in the eighth to negate the effect of Eldred’s second homer of the night, and the Carp scored “only” one more run the rest of the way. Marcos Mateo pitched a clean ninth, and the Tigers survived a wild one in Hiroshima. Final Score: Tigers 12, Carp 9.
Game 24 – Saturday, 4/23: The good news – the hottest pitcher on the team would take the mound in this one. The bad news – the Carp countered with a pitcher we haven’t beaten since his return from MLB. The result – a low-scoring game that looked nothing like the blood-bath we saw on Friday. Much like last time we saw him, the Tigers could not muster much against grizzled veteran Hiroki Kuroda, who went seven strong. The Carp put together back-to-back hits in the third off Yuta Iwasada to take a one-run lead, which remained in place until the eighth, when Rafael Dolis ran into a little trouble. The damage was two more runs and a lead that looked insurmountable. Until, that is, Gomez hit a two-run homer to deep left in the top of the ninth. But that was it. Three batters later, the Carp fans were singing their victory song. Final Score: Carp 3, Tigers 2.
Game 25 – Sunday, 4/24: The rubber match would be a crucial one, and the Tigers came ready. Taichi Okazaki’s sacrifice fly opened the scoring in the second, and Shun Takayama added to the lead with an RBI single two batters later, and then an amazing 2-run home run to right in the fifth. The latter came after Atsushi Nohmi allowed a homer to the Carp catcher in the third. The rest of the way, though, he was nearly unhittable. He would go the distance, allowing one more run in the last frame on two hits, but overall was as good as we have seen him in years. Pouring salt on the wound was pinch hitter Kosuke Fukudome, who is still unable to start games, as he hit a strong line drive to the right-center gap, plating two more runs. It was a strong performance by the team overall, and a good end to the week. Final Score: Tigers 6, Carp 2.
Series Notes: Nishioka apparently injured his hamstring on Saturday and was immediately placed on the disabled list. The team has recalled Ryota Arai to take his place… Former Tiger (Ryota’s older brother) Takahiro Arai remains just one hit shy of 2000 on his career after the weekend series. He recorded 5 hits in these three games, and hopes to pick it up against the Swallows on Tuesday… Toritani and Imanari picked up their first mo-dasho (three-hit games) of the season on Sunday. Outside of injured Nishioka, the entire starting infield has raised its batting average over the past week significantly… The Tigers sit in third place, one and a half games behind the arch-rival Giants, whom they will host next Tuesday-Thursday for the first time this season. Here are the most recent standings.