The series at Jingu left a sour taste in the mouths of Hanshin fans, and facing the Yomiuri Giants in Tokyo – where the Tigers won just 2 of 13 in 2015 – had the potential of either lifting our spirits or dashing our hopes heading into interleague play. As it turns out, it was a little bit of both.
Game 51 – Friday, 5/27: The series started off about as well as the Tigers could have hoped for: an infield single by Mauro Gomez resulted in a run scored when Giants shortstop threw a ball away trying to get the force out at third. A plunked Fumihito Haraguchi loaded the bases, but their pitcher induced a 6-4-3 double play out of Shun Takayama, and the threat was over. Young stud pitcher Yuta Iwasada continued his dominance of everyone this year, keeping the Giants bats silent pretty much the entire game. The only trouble he got in was in the fourth, when he walked three guys (but also induced a double play). Otherwise, no runners reached second base until the seventh, when they required a sacrifice bunt to accomplish the feat. Iwasada went the distance, recording his first career complete game shutout. The Tigers bats did not get anything going against star pitcher Sugano, threatening only in the seventh inning, when they got runners on second and third with two outs. Still, when the top two pitchers in the Central (as far as ERA goes) face off, one run will often be enough. No earned runs in this one, but the Tigers drew first blood thanks to the Giants captain’s error and a gutsy start by Iwasada. Final Score: Tigers 1, Giants 0.
Game 52 – Saturday, 5/28: Another young lefty would take the mound in this one for the Tigers. Suguru Iwazaki pitched a great game last week but lost his shot at a win when the bullpen collapsed (as it has done countless times this month). In the bottom of the third inning, starting second baseman Fumiya Hojoh fielded a ground ball cleanly, then threw a one-hopper four feet wide of its target. The result was a run against, and then another came when the next batter got a hit. Down 2-0 heading into the fourth, the Tigers bats fought back hard, recording four straight hits (Gomez, Haraguchi, Matt Hague and Ryota Arai) following a leadoff walk and an out, and the lead belonged to the visiting team. Iwazaki showed faint signs of the pitcher he was last year, unable to finish out his assignment, as he walked the last batter he faced and put the bullpen in a precarious position. However, Yuya Andoh escaped the jam in just one pitch. In the top of the ninth, the Tigers got back-to-back homers from Haraguchi and Hague, giving them a healthy lead for an unhealthy bullpen. Kyuji Fujikawa came in and struggled, giving up two runs on a combination of hits and walks. Fortunately, he was able to escape before blowing yet another lead. Final Score: Tigers 6, Giants 4.
Game 53 – Sunday, 5/29: This would be Randy Messenger‘s fourth start against the Giants this season – he beat them in early April in Tokyo, then got a no-decision in a tie game in late April at Koshien. Then earlier this month, he took a tough-luck loss at home. In two of those games, he gave up a home run to Sakamoto. Unfortunately, this one continued the trend. In the bottom of the third, the Giants put a run on the board on an RBI single, but the greedy hitter got run down between first and second, so Sakamoto’s follow-up home run was a solo shot. Meanwhile, the Tigers were held hitless until Takashi Toritani led off the fourth with a solo blast of his own. The bats only scattered three more hits the rest of the way, including a double by Toritani in the sixth that left him stranded at second. In the end, there just wasn’t enough offense to support a fine effort by the veteran import, and the Giants broke their 7-game losing streak. Final Score: Giants 2, Tigers 1.
Series Notes: Closer Marcos Mateo was deactivated on Saturday with soreness in his right shoulder. Fifth round draft pick Koyo Aoyagi took his roster spot, but did not appear in either game… Hague’s home run on Saturday was his first since March 31 against the Yakult Swallows. He has yet to hit one at Koshien… Messenger recorded the 1000th strikeout of his NPB career on Sunday, fanning Ryota Wakiya to end the seventh inning… The error parade continued even after Hojoh’s errant throw on Saturday. In the eighth inning of that one, Gomez was charged with an error on an infield pop-up when he and reliever Akifumi Takahashi crossed wires. (Takahashi later admitted he got in the way.) Toritani also threw wildly to first on a grounder on Sunday. Neither of these errors cost the team runs, fortunately… Rafael Dolis threw an inning in the farm team’s exhibition game on Sunday. He says he’s feeling fine… Tsuyoshi Nishioka (right hamstring) is expected to play in some rehab games on the farm starting this Tuesday… The Tigers head into interleague play with a .500 record and sitting in third place in the Central League.