After the embarrassment fed to them earlier in the week against the Giants, Hanshin had something to prove in this series. Could they make their week look respectable by taking their frustrations out on the last place BayStars?
Game 29 – Friday, 4/29: K, I have to admit that I am not sure how many times the Tigers struck out in this one, K? BayStars starter Imanaga was doing OK. K. K. K, you understand what I’m getting at. Of the 18 outs he recorded in his six innings of work, 14 of them were by strikeout. OK? The K ruled the night. The Tigers did not register a hit through four innings, and had just one base runner. Poor Tigers starter Yuta Iwasada looked like he would have to suffer another loss or at least a no-decision, as he was doing all he could to keep the ‘Stars off the board himself. He limited them to just one hit through three, but landed himself into a little trouble with two outs in the fourth, when he failed to step on first base while covering on a grounder to Mauro Gomez. That error was followed by two consecutive hits and the game’s first run. The Tigers finally got their first hit after a leadoff walk to Takashi Toritani. Stepping up to the plate after receiving some advice from manager Tomoaki Kanemoto, rookie third baseman Naomasa Yohkawa smoked the third pitch he saw to deep center, removing the deficit and giving the Tigers a tenuous one-run cushion. The very next inning, a failed diving catch by Taiga Egoshi landed their leadoff runner on third. Iwasada was determined, though, inducing a shallow fly ball to center and then two straight strikeouts to get out of the inning unscathed. That would be the end of his night (6 IP, 1 ER, 0 ER, 8 K) and his first home win of the season would be in the hands of the relievers. Could they hold the BayStars off the board for three innings? Akifumi Takahashi took the mound in the seventh and struck out the side. Rafael Dolis threw the eighth and worked around a one-out single by inducing a double play. He would need just 5 pitches to complete the inning. The Tiger bats made a little noise here and there, including a two-out, bases loaded chance for Toritani, but his grounder to second ended the inning without a score. In came closer Marcos Mateo. Another deep fly ball and failed diving catch attempt put a runner on third with one out. However, Mateo calmly induced a weak grounder to catcher and foul fly to third, and the balloons filled the Koshien night sky for the second time. Final Score: Tigers 2, BayStars 1.
Game 30 – Saturday, 4/30: Kyuji Fujikawa made his return to the top squad in this day game. He would nearly replicate Iwasada’s line from the day before – allowing just one run in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out 7 and gave up just three hits (and three walks) but as his pitch count reached triple digits and the bases were juiced, Kanemoto called for Daiki Enokida to put out the fire. He did (thanks to a beautiful jumping catch by Yohkawa), keeping the score at 1-0 as the game entered the bottom of the seventh. But Fujikawa would have to watch from the bench as the chance of earning a win would have to wait until next weekend. Meanwhile, the Tigers bats failed to generate many scoring chances through eight innings, putting up just three hits (and getting two men in scoring position). Enokida gave up a leadoff solo shot in the top of the eighth, and Kazuya Takamiya surrendered another run on two hits, a walk and an error (his own – an errant throw to second that turned a double play into a bases loaded situation). The Tigers would have to try to come back from two down in the bottom of the ninth against the ‘Stars stellar sophomore closer, Yamasaki. Yamato led off with a single to center. Two straight batters failed to move him over or get on base. Then came Gomez, who has had a penchant for breaking other teams’ shutouts with home runs. He did it again, knocking one over the center field wall, and cutting the lead to one. But that was as close as this one would get. Final Score: BayStars 3, Tigers 2.
Game 31 – Sunday, 5/1: The new month began with a thud. Starter Atsushi Nohmi struggled early and the defense behind him didn’t help. The ‘Stars jumped out to a three nothing lead in the second, in part because of Yutaro Itayama‘s bad throw on an RBI single by their starting pitcher. He made up for it (in part) with an RBI double (his first career hit and RBI) in the bottom of the third, but the lead extended to five in the top of the sixth. A bases-clearing double put the game nearly out of hand, and although Nohmi finished the inning, his outing certainly ended earlier than he had hoped. But this year’s Tigers seem to save their best hitting for the final few innings of games. This one would be no exception. Drama began in the seventh, when the young Tigers at the bottom of the lineup set the table for the veterans. Taiga Egoshi walked. Yohkawa singled, as did Fumihito Haraguchi. With the bases loaded and one out, Keisuke Kanoh drew a run-scoring walk, then Yamato did the same. Toritani added an RBI single to cut the lead to two, and an out later, Gomez drove the first pitch he saw through the gap between short and third. Game tied! An inning later, the young players set the table nicely for the veterans again, and Yamato did not disappoint. With runners at first and third, he drove a two-strike pitch to right, scoring the go-ahead run. The Big Barbusa (Mateo) pitched a clean ninth and the Tigers had their second come-from-behind win of the week. Final Score: Tigers 7, BayStars 6.
Series Notes: Other than Gomez, the entire starting lineup on Friday featured players drafted by Hanshin. The results were not great, but it has shown a huge change in the team’s faith in its young players. For the record, Kosuke Fukudome was rested because of his lingering left hamstring injury… Tsuyoshi Nishioka is slowly recovering from his own hamstring injury, and hopes to come back sometime next week when he is eligible to return… The BayStars played the whole series without slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh, who was placed on the disabled list before Friday’s game…