vs. Giants – April 26-28 – Sweep Barely Avoided

0426-28GiantsLet me start off with my personal story. A friend of mine, who is a Tigers fan, said he wanted to take in a game before he left for the States at the end of the month. I found seats to Tuesday’s game despite it being a sellout. I’m pumped. Then I get word from a TV channel that they wanted to do a Tigers-Giants rivalry special, and they might need my help at the game. In the right field stands. WOW! Now I’m even more pumped! I get rid of my tickets and get ready for something better. Then I find out the TV gig will be delayed until July. Then I find out I have a meeting Tuesday night. NO GAME FOR ME. But the good news is, I get invited to attend Wednesday’s game instead, and with a pretty good seat. My week, this series, was salvaged. For me. Or was it?

Fujinami looks ready to run to the dugout. I would too after that ugly sixth.

Fujinami looks ready to run to the dugout. I would too after that ugly sixth.

Game 26 – Tuesday 4/26: This one started out well enough for the Tigers. Well, it started with another first inning walk by starter Shintaro Fujinami, but at least he held down the fort early on. He also hit a double in the bottom of the third and scored on Shun Takayama’s grounder that snuck past the Giants first baseman on an error. Takayama would then score on a Kosuke Fukudome sacrifice fly, giving the home team a nice little lead heading into the middle of the match. It was mostly smooth sailing for the 22-year old ace until the sixth. Oh, the sixth. He looked like a completely different pitcher, getting tagged for 5 hits and even adding in a trademark untimely walk, turning a two-run lead into a two-run deficit before even recording an out. He would eventually go seven innings but the big damage had been done. The Giants tacked on another run in the eighth, though, and while our offense showed signs of making a comeback in the bottom half of the inning (a Takashi Toritani double would cut the lead back down to 2), there simply wasn’t enough gas left in the tank to combat against the mighty Giant relievers. “Whew! Glad I wasn’t at this one after all,” a relieved HTEN blogger said to himself, hopeful for a better result the next day. Final Score: Giants 5, Tigers 3.

Egoshi's throw from center went past cutoff man Gomez, catcher Shimizu and pitcher Iwata, who should have been behind the catcher. One of many messy plays on this night.

Egoshi’s throw from center went past cutoff man Gomez, catcher Shimizu and pitcher Iwata, who should have been behind the catcher. One of many messy plays on this night.

Game 27 – Wednesday 4/27: There was talk of the game being called due to forecasts of heavy rain. But most of the rain on this night was the shedding of tears by Hanshin fans. Before I get too negative, allow me to highlight the good things that happened in this one. Ryota Arai hit a pinch hit home run in the bottom of the sixth. Naomasa Yohkawa collected two hits in two at bats. Catcher Fumihito Haraguchi made his debut and collected his first career hit.

That is all. Now prepare for a long list of foibles, failures and funkiness. Keep in mind the ground was sodden and fielding conditions were not great. Also keep in mind the Giants played defense on the exact same field and showed no signs of being a first-round outcast team in the annual high school tournament, which is what the Tigers looked like tonight – and that’s putting it nicely.

Top of the first. Hit, strikeout, grounder. Could be an inning-ending double play. Should be. Toritani has problems fielding it cleanly. Runner is safe at first. Inning continues. TWO-RUN HOMER.

Bottom of the third: Takashi Shimizu looks completely lost at the plate. Strikes out. Starter Minoru Iwata (7.11 ERA after 4 outings, farming imminent) walks on four pitches. We catch a break! Takayama grounds into a double play. Inning over.

Top of the fourth: Murata hits a deep ball to the wall. Taiga Egoshi has a beat on it. Gets there. Raises his glove. Ball hits glove, drops. No error called. That’s OK, though. Pitcher hits weak grounder to first. Mauro Gomez goes cross body to field it. Oops! Ball drops, runners safe everywhere. That’s OK, though. Chono smacks a double to center. Egoshi throws in, misses cut off man. Ball skids to catcher. Past catcher. Pitcher is not covering behind catcher. Ball rolls to backstop. All runners advance. Game out of hand.

Bottom of the fourth: Still no hits for the Tigers. Egoshi watches third pitch called for strike three. Looks dumbfounded. His night is over. Shintaro Yokota takes over in center. Looks like the right move. But at least Egoshi only got one out per at bat. (More on this later.) To this point, only two balls hit by Tigers bats have gone beyond the infield dirt.

Bottom of the fifth: Gomez smacks one down the left field line. The Tigers have a HIT! Slow out of the box, he still tries for second. Could not stretch it into a double. Out. Toritani with a hit. Stranded at first.

Top of the sixth: Chono hits another ball to deep center. Yokota chases it. At the last second, realizes he cannot make the catch. Ball caroms off the wall, rolls halfway to the infield. Yokota chases it down. Triple. That’s OK. Next batter hits a grounder to short. No problem. Problem. Toritani error. Run scores, inning continues. Can I go home yet? What, and miss more Bad News Bears badness?

Bottom of the sixth: Ryota HR, Takayama out, then Ryota Imanari hit. Yokota negates hit by grounding into a double play. When does this guy NOT hit grounders? Inning over.

Bottom of the seventh: Fukudome hit. Yutaro Itayama in as pinch runner. Gomez out. Toritani up. First baseman not holding runner. Itayama (young “speedy” player) takes smallest lead I have seen outside of Little League ball. Full count. WHY NOT RUN? Still taking a pee-wee lead. One batter later, Yamato grounds into an inning-ending double play. Think three double plays is enough? Think again!

Bottom of the eighth: Haraguchi records his first career hit after a Yamato out. Pinch hitter Fumiya Hojoh wipes it out with a double play of his own. The count is up to four. But there’s still one more inning to go!

Bottom of the ninth: You guessed it. After a one-out Yohkawa single, Yokota hits into the team’s fifth double play of the game, tying a club record of shame. The game is over at last! It feels like the Tigers have spent it all in the field. Kanemoto calls it the most pathetic game of the season for the team. He isn’t wrong.

Final Score: Giants two Pockys, Tigers one Pocky.

This one looked like a sweep until Mauro's 8th Gomerun of the season sparked a 9th inning rally.

This one looked like a sweep until Mauro’s 8th Gomerun of the season sparked a 9th inning rally.

Game 28 – Thursday, 4/28: The boys owed the fans something in this one. But going up against the hottest pitcher in baseball, what could they do? The answer: not too much at first. Randy Messenger was better than he was last week, but gave up his share of hits. One of those, a three-run shot to Sakamoto in the top of the third, was really costly. The Tiger bats looked pathetic through three. One base runner, who got to first by virtue of a Sakamoto error, and that’s all. Seven strikeouts in the first three frames. One hit in the fourth, negated by yet another double play. Two more hits in the fifth, but two more strikeouts. Another hit in the sixth, but another double play. It’s looking a lot like yesterday out there, but with fewer runs against and fielding gaffes. (But don’t worry, there were still a few of those – mostly by our captain at short, who felt like he had to keep up with his counterpart in the field.) Finally in the seventh, a couple of hits (Fukudome and Gomez) and an error brought home our first run. And with the bases loaded and just one out, we brought our two best pinch hitters (Keisuke Kanoh and Arai) to face the suddenly mortal Sugano. Strikeout and strikeout. Inning over. Randy held in tough the rest of his stint, going seven strong. The relief did their part as well, with Rafael Dolis shutting the Giants out in the eighth and ninth. Oh, the ninth. With the hated (but really good) Sawamura on the mound, this one looked to be over. Gomez at the dish. Pitch one – really high. Pitch two – high and deep… into the left field stands! Hojoh with a single. Yamato with a sacrifice bunt. (Sounds like 2014 all over again!) Egoshi with a single. Advances to second on a daring but clever decision. Haraguchi with a sacrifice fly. Still just two outs and a man in scoring position. Takayama grounds out and we head to extras. Marcos Mateo holds down the fort for two innings while their relievers sat our guys down, too. Yuya Andoh sent a scare into the crowd when he allowed a leadoff double to Chono… which he tried and failed to stretch into a triple. WHEW! Then came a Toritani error. Then, fortunately, we got out of the 12th. The sweep was avoided. We drew a leadoff walk and got the runner to second with one out, but two strikeouts in a row ended the threat (much like the seventh). Game over. Tigers humiliated but not swept… barely. Final Score: Tigers 3, Giants 3.

Series Notes: Following Tuesday’s meltdown, catcher Ryutaro Umeno (0-3, 3 K’s to go with a poorly called game) gets sent to the farm. He will likely spend a long time there re-learning how to catch, throw, call a game and hit… Replacing him was Fumihito Haraguchi. Who? Right. Former sixth round pick in 2009 who never made the big club in 4 years, then was given an ikusei (development player) contract – which requires a player to don triple digits and forbids him from being promoted to the big club. Haraguchi had his contract renegotiated mid-season, got a new number (going from 124 to 94) and immediately got the call up to the first squad. Since (a) the club was wearing special retro jerseys and (b) his new contract was rather sudden, tailors could not stitch up his new uniform in time for the game, so he wore coach Yamada’s 82 for his first game… Iwata also received his packing papers after Wednesday’s bludgeoning. With a 7.11 ERA (mercifully lower than it might be, were it not for half his runs this last game being unearned), he could spend much of May and perhaps more on the farm. No word on his replacement, but the club won’t need a pitcher in his slot until next Wednesday… Hiroaki Saiuchi’s precarious 0.00 ERA streak ended on Wednesday as he allowed yet another inherited runner to score, but then let a few more guys touch home plate. His tendency to fall behind in counts to nearly all batters he faces is alarming. He was also sent to the farm. So was Shimizu… Takayama, Egoshi and Yokota had new cheer songs debuted at Koshien on Tuesday (click here, here and here respectively). They proceeded to go 2-for-22 with 11 grounders and 7 strikeouts and 3 walks in the series… Shinji Komiyama and Tsuyoshi Ishizaki got their first call-up from the farm. Komiyama played a few innings on Thursday but Ishizaki did not take to the mound.

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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.