The good news is that the Tigers have finished playing in Pacific League parks for another year. The bad news is that they had their worst week of the season and looked terrible in doing so. This series was no different. Other than being able to squeeze out a victory in the middle game. Read on if you are feeling masochistic.
Game 63 – Friday, 6/10: With Yuta Iwasada on the mound, the Tigers had a decent chance of winning this one. Especially since they would face mediocre import starter Mendoza. Hanshin chased him after 6 1/3 innings in which he gave up 11 hits, but fortunately for him, only one of those was for extra bases, and only two runs scored during his time on the mound. It was that extra base hit – a triple by Shun Takayama in the second – that helped the Tigers get out to an early lead. A base running blunder by Fumiya Hojoh in the fourth cost them a chance at more runs, but the lead was extended in the fifth when Mauro Gomez hit the third single of the inning for the team. Our young lefty held the Fighters in check until the bottom of that fifth inning, in which they plated one and barely failed to tie the score. In fact, the runner at home (on a run-down) was ruled safe initially but video replay showed that Iwasada applied the tag on time. Unfortunately, he gave up a run in each of the sixth and seventh innings, setting our team behind once again. Takayama played the hero in the top of the eighth with a huge 2-run double, which set things up beautifully for closer Kyuji Fujikawa in the bottom of the ninth. He gave up an infield hit to the leadoff hitter, and then KABLAMMO! Brandon Laird hit one so far that had this not been a dome, it might have left the premises. Great dramatics for the sushi-loving American, heart-wrenching dramatics for the team whose losing streak had now reached five. Final Score: Fighters 5, Tigers 4. LP: Fujikawa (2-4)
Game 64 – Saturday, 6/11: Three one-run losses and two blowouts. About enough to give any Tigers fan heartburn and no desire to watch this one. However, with Randy Messenger on the mound, there’s always a chance for the Tigers to notch a W. The big man nearly repeated his 2015 dominant outing against the Fighters (complete game shutout). This time, the team gave him more than a run of support, too. In the third inning, Yamato hit a 2-run double, and Shunsuke walked with the bases loaded in the sixth. Messenger limited the Fighters to four hits and two walks while striking out eight over seven innings. The lone “threat” against him came in the second inning when back-to-back singles were followed up by a brilliant fielding play by Taichi Okazaki. A popped up bunt could have easily been caught for the first out, but instead the catcher feigned catching it, instead letting it drop. He easily threw out the lead runner, and the second half of the double play was easy, too. The relief managed to keep the Fighters bats at bay for two innings, including Rafael Dolis‘ first career NPB save. Final Score: Tigers 3, Fighters 0. WP: Messenger (6-4)
Game 65 – Sunday, 6/12: One run in two outings against fighters super-ace (and super-slugger) Shohei Ohtani meant this one would require some serious cho-henkaku from the Tigers nine. Unfortunately, there was no change. No ball left the infield through three innings, and the only two base runners through four were both victims of double plays later in the innings. Kosuke Fukudome led off the fifth with a double and was stranded there as three straight batters fell victim to Ohtani’s masterful pitching. Two base runners in the sixth were also stranded. No one bothered reaching first base in the seventh, and Ohtani’s outing was done after just 107 pitches (3 hits, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts). Meanwhile, Suguru Iwazaki left too many pitches in the zone, and the Fighters made him pay dearly. A leadoff homer in the first gave them an early lead, one they would not let go the rest of the way. Another left the park in the third, and then in the fourth, Laird repeated his Friday blast with another ball DEEP to left. Those Hokkaido announcers and their “It is… GONE!” would grow on me if only their home runs didn’t come against us in humiliating defeats. Iwazaki’s outing ended after six innings in which the three homers accounted for all 5 of the runs they got off the lefty. One more run came across in the seventh against newly called-up Kazuo Itoh, who fell victim to Takashi Toritani‘s 9th error of the year – he made a great diving stop of what would have been an infield hit, but tried to glove-toss it to second for the force out, and missed badly. Though Itoh required 46 pitches to complete two innings of work, he allowed no earned runs in his debut. However, the Tigers returned to their losing ways, and did so in a convincing fashion. Final Score: Fighters 6, Tigers 0. LP: Iwazaki (1-1)
Series Notes: Shintaro Fujinami (right thumb) and Fumihito Haraguchi (left thumb) were both diagnosed with bruises and should not miss much action. Haraguchi pinch hit on Saturday and was the designated hitter on Sunday… Ryutaro Umeno was called up to play catcher in Haraguchi’s absence. He collected two hits on Friday and another along with two walks on Sunday… Tsuyoshi Nishioka played two innings of outfield (one in LF, one in CF) on Sunday. He had to field one ball – a single through the left side of the infield that he simply had to scoop up and throw in. He did fine… In big news (see upcoming article), the Tigers have signed American reliever Cody Satterwhite to a contract. The righty was playing for the Anaheim Angels’ AAA team in Salt Lake City… The Tigers finish the road part of their interleague play with a 3-6 record away from Koshien. They are 4-8 overall, and could easily finish in last place as they face the weak (but strong against the Tigers) Orix Buffaloes and the powerhouse SoftBank Hawks at home next week. Full standings can be seen here.