After a close series against the Dragons, the Tigers needed to continue their momentum at home before hitting the road for 9 straight. They have not played well against the Carp for much of the last two seasons (8-15-2 last year, 3-3 so far this year). Could they keep things tight atop the Central by vanquishing their red foes?
Game 45 – Friday, 5/20: For the second time, Yuta Iwasada would square off against Hiroki Kuroda. Last time, he was pulled part way through an inning and the inherited runners scored, blowing his chance at a win. This time, he left the game after 7 with a 1-0 lead. In the fourth, Shun Takayama legged out an infield hit, as Takahiro Arai dove at first base with the ball in his fist, just a fraction of a second late. Kosuke Fukudome would score on the play. The lead lasted until the ninth inning, when closer Marcos Mateo walked the leadoff hitter, gave him second base on a wild pitch, saw him advance on a grounder and score on a sacrifice fly. This one would go to extras… our first two relievers kept things clean through eleven, while our hitters missed out on a golden chance in the bottom of the 11th. Runners were on second and third with two outs when Keisuke Kanoh flied out to left to end the inning. Newcomer Kojiro Tanabo walked the first batter in the twelfth and was promptly relieved by Daiki Enokida, who fell apart in spectacular fashion. The bats could not bounce back from the devastation, though the tying run was at the dish when the game ended. Final Score: Carp 4, Tigers 1. (LP: Tanabo)
Game 46 – Saturday, 5/21: Making his 2016 debut, Suguru Iwazaki gave the Tigers fans little to get excited about in the opening frame. Before the sunscreen could even be applied to their faces, fans saw the lead be given to the visitors and runners were threatening to blow it wide open. However, the third-year southpaw settled in nicely, ending the frame without further damage, and coasting through another five innings of shutout work. Meanwhile, the bats came alive against their rookie starter but only managed one run through six innings. That run came on three straight singles in the fourth, and Fumihito Haraguchi knocking in Mauro Gomez. In the seventh, two walks were followed by two straight hits (the latter to Yamato), bringing home another run. Then in the eighth, Takashi Toritani extended the lead with a sacrifice fly in a bases loaded situation. Then in the ninth, Mateo was called on to protect the two-run lead. A routine-looking pop fly to shallow left dropped to the ground, and then a routine-looking fly ball to right field carried over the fence. Tie game. This time, the Tigers bats showed enough resolve to put the game away before extras. Yamato led off with a double, then got moved over to third on a sacrifice bunt. Trying to set up a do-or-die double play situation, our clean-up hitters were walked, leaving the game in the hands of Takayama. The super-rookie made no mistake, knocking in the game winner on a solid liner to shallow right. Sayonara. Final Score: Tigers 4, Carp 3. (WP: Mateo)
Game 47 – Sunday, 5/22: For the first time in what seems like ages, the Tigers pounced on the opponent’s pitcher in the first inning. A few runners set the table nicely for Haraguchi to knock one in on a single to left, then Takayama to do the same to right. Unfortunately, starter Randy Messenger ran into all sorts of trouble in the third, when a one-out walk led to more base runners, a three-run home run, a couple more hits and then a bases-clearing triple. (This last one came after a strikeout call was reversed – the umpire says it was in fact a foul tip.) The Tigers roared back in the bottom of the frame, with two walks giving Takayama another shot at an RBI, and he didn’t let us down. Unfortunately, he got chased down on the base paths on a pickoff. The bases got loaded back up, and the Carp reliever walked Fumiya Hojoh to make the game closer. Our big righty was unable to keep this one close, though, allowing another home run in the top of the fourth and bringing the deficit back to three. A Haraguchi RBI brought the Tigers back within striking distance, but another home run (Matsuyama’s second of the game) and then another run later made this one a laugher when the dust had settled and all was said and done. Final Score: Carp 10, Tigers 5. (LP: Messenger)
Series Notes: Despite all the hits for the Tigers, an incredible 83% of them (29 of 35) were singles. On the other hand, Tigers pitchers allowed 3 home runs and 4 other extra base hits on just 24 hits… Fukudome sat out Sunday’s game and Shunsuke took his place in right. He went 0-for-3… This series presented a great chance to gain ground on the Carp and the struggling Giants. Instead, the Tigers fall back into fourth, though they are just 2 games out of first. Standings here.