While I dream that the 2016 Tigers will win the pennant, I am also fully aware that playing with such a young lineup means there will be a lot of growing pains, mistakes, and losses. The previous series against the BayStars showed us several times that wins would not come easy. (We won the first game on essentially one hit, then lost, then came back from 5 back in the final three frames in the third.) Meanwhile, we were heading to the dome that has shown us no love since its opening in 1997. We got broomed out of there earlier this year, and have been completely demolished by new import Dayan Viciedo (6 games, 5 HR, .538 average) so far. But again, with a young lineup, all sorts of things can happen, right?
Game 32 – Tuesday, 5/3: This is the game we were expected to win. Though he is struggling early in the year, Shintaro Fujinami seems to come out with a lot more W’s than L’s on his record. Unfortunately, he brought his B-game again in this one. The boys gave him an early 1-0 lead (Yamato led off with a double and scored on a wild pitch two batters later), but poor control (again) and some sharp hitting by the Dragons reversed that lead by the end of the first. The Tigers crawled back into this one in the fourth as Mauro Gomez led off with a walk and came home on Fumihito Haraguchi‘s sacrifice fly. Unfortunately, Fujinami’s struggles didn’t stop in the first. He coughed up another run in the bottom of the fifth (a leadoff homer), and then another in the seventh (walk, steal, RBI triple), and that put the game out of hand for the visitors. They seemed to lack vitality in the bats, and could not push another runner across the plate. They brought the potential winning run to the plate in the ninth but could not convert. Final Score: Dragons 4, Tigers 2.
Game 33 – Wednesday, 5/4: The seesaw game (L, W, L, W, L, W, L, L, T, W, L, W, L since April 17) looked to continue in this one. First-round draft pick Yuya Yokoyama (2014) made his season debut in front of his parents, and made them feel proud as he went 7 shutout innings, never allowing more than one base runner in any of his innings. He also struck out six and left the game after just 95 pitches thrown. The Hanshin bats supported his strong pitching all day, putting up five in the top of the fourth (Gomez RBI single, Yutaro Itayama RBI single, and Haraguchi 3-run homer – the first of his career), and following it up with two more in the fifth (off Gomez’s bat – a single up the middle). Two innings later, they were back at it again – Fumiya Hojoh drove one through the right side of the infield, and Haraguchi looped one over short to add insult to injury. Add a W to the seesaw game! One would be hard-pressed to find something to be displeased about in this one. Final Score: Tigers 9, Dragons 0.
Game 34 – Thursday, 5/5: Surely the Dragons would not go down this easily… would they? Though he looked a little erratic at times, their starter (Oguma) held us down until his start was broken up (pardon the pun) in the fourth when he took a Haraguchi line drive off his right wrist. He should be in the DL announcements tomorrow. Still, the Tigers could not capitalize on a brilliant outing by their starter, Randy Messenger. Once again starting off shaky as he did last week, he got out of a first-inning jam with a grounder to first. After that, no runner got past first base again until the seventh, when again he had runners on the corners with two outs. A sharply hit line drive was tracked down by Shun Takayama, and the shutout was preserved. Meanwhile, the offense got some power from its least likely source. With two outs in the top of the seventh, Yamato (until now, 1 career HR) knocked one into the left field stands, giving the team a slender lead, and something to talk about on the bullet train ride home. Rafael Dolis and Marcos Mateo continued to supply the shut-em-down combination the team has needed in the late innings, and the Tigers put together consecutive wins for the first time since mid-April. Final Score: Tigers 1, Dragons 0.
Series Notes: Haraguchi played behind the dish in all three games, and has really made a good name for himself, throwing out three potential base stealers, including a crucial one in the eighth inning on Thursday… Kosuke Fukudome did not start on Thursday after apparently re-tweaking his left hamstring while legging out a double on Wednesday. The injury does not look serious, but the team will likely not rush him back into the lineup… Viciedo finished the series just 1-for-10 with a single… The farm team played a 3-game series at Koshien Stadium and drew over 30,000 fans over the course of three days. It was manager Masayuki Kakefu’s first time wearing a Tigers uniform on the field in 28 years… The Tigers are now two games above .500 and sit in third place in the standings.