The Tigers were looking for just their second three-game winning streak of the year, and needed a strong series to distance themselves from the defending Central League champions, who have shown signs of waking out of their early spring slumber.
Game 35 – Friday, 5/6: The last time the Tigers’ starting nine’s average age was under 26 was last week against the BayStars – and they struck out 16 times, struggled to score runs and were saved by excellent starting pitching and one big hit by a rookie. The pattern looked to be repeated in this one, with Yuta Iwasada pitching outstanding ball once again. This time, despite allowing two base runners in the first and third innings, he went seven strong and struck out nine while keeping the Tigers’ shutout streak going strong at 26 innings. Meanwhile, he got run support early on, as 2015 draftees Shun Takayama and Yutaro Itayama each got hits, the latter of which plated two runs – the lone two allowed by either starter in this pitchers’ duel. Rafael Dolis worked around two singles in the bottom of the eighth, and their reliever got out of a jam in the bottom half as well. Marcos Mateo continued the “two runner” trend in the top of the ninth, turning this one into a real nail-biter, but struck out the final batter to preserve the win. That’s three straight shutouts for the Tigers. Final Score: Tigers 2, Swallows 0.
Game 36 – Saturday, 5/7: It didn’t take long for starter Kyuji Fujikawa to break the shutout streak – the fourth batter he faced drove one over the left field fence to give the Swallows an early 3-0 lead. Fujikawa required 43 pitches to get out of the inning. The long ball parade continued in the top of the third when another ball found its way to the stands, and this one looked like a blowout. Kyuji would hit the showers before his turn in the batting order came up… and perhaps it’s a good thing. His replacement took a pitch to the body, as did Takayama, putting runners on first and second. A wild pickoff throw advanced them both to scoring position, and Yamato brought in the first Tigers run with a sacrifice fly to right. Mauro Gomez added an RBI single of his own, and Taiga Egoshi‘s ground out to short – the only time he put a ball in play – scored a third run. In the bottom of the fourth, the charge continued. Two walks and two hits – the last a 2-run single by Yamato – evened the score at five. Unfortunately the Tigers bats were unable to capitalize on getting to the Swallows bullpen early, and the game remained tied heading into the last third of the bout. Dolis took the mound for the third straight game and fourth time this week, and perhaps that was a little too much for him. With one out and the bases loaded, a bobbled grounder to second led to a close play at the dish for the force out. While replays (see above for a still shot) showed the runner to be out, the ump deemed him safe, giving the lead back to the visitors. Dolis gave up two more run-scoring singles before leaving the game, but Kazuya Takamiya allowed two inherited runners to score, and the game once again had a five-run spread. A home run in the eighth by “Cinderella Boy” Fumihito Haraguchi gave the fans a little excitement late, but that was the lone fireworks from the team after the top of the seventh took the life out of them. Final Score: Swallows 10, Tigers 6.
Game 37 – Sunday 5/8: Another day, another first inning homer against. Atsushi Nohmi got off to almost as bad a start as Fujikawa did on Saturday. The third batter he faced drove a ball over the left field fence to give the visitors and early 2-0 lead. Despite the Swallows putting a struggling rookie on the mound, the Tigers bats simply could not generate any offense in this one, waiting until the bottom of the 7th, when the score was already 3-0, to put a run on the board. Takayama knocked in Haraguchi, who was waiting patiently at third base for someone to score him. Unfortunately that was all the offense the Tigers mustered all day. They were unable to take advantage of rookie Fumiya Hojoh‘s first career three-hit game. Takamiya came in to close out the game, but allowed two runs in the process (one by Tsuyoshi Ishizaki, who could not hold the inherited runner at second). Final Score: Swallows 5, Tigers 1.
Series Notes: Kosuke Fukudome started in right in Sunday’s game, but went 0-4 with 2 strikeouts. His left hamstring is apparently still bothering him enough to keep him benched but not enough to put him on the disabled list… Egoshi is second in the Central League in strikeouts despite not having enough at bats to qualify for the batting title. He now has 32 strikeouts in 91 plate appearances. His ineptness at the plate and laziness in the field earned him his first demotion of the year. Hiroki Uemoto was called up to replace him… Takayama continues to struggle at the plate, going just 4 for 21 (.190) so far in May… The two teams combined for 16 players walked or hit by pitches on Saturday. None of the pitchers had great control… The Tigers moved back into 4th place but are just a game out of first. The Central League is a log-jam at the top, with the Chunichi Dragons currently sitting atop the standings.