The Tigers combined to win two of nine (one vs. Lions, none @ Marines and one @ Fighters) against quality Pacific League opponents. Their two wins against the then-last place Eagles was barely acceptable, and the same result against the now-last place Buffaloes would also be the bare minimum, though a sweep would definitely be preferred, especially with 2014 Sawamura Award winner Chihiro Kaneko on the shelf. Last year’s Kansai Derby, which was held at Kyocera Dome in Osaka, was a complete disaster for us – a shutout heartbreaking loss (0-1) was followed by two terrible drubbings (1-15 and 0-10) as the Tigers blew a great chance to finish near the top of the interleague standings. This year, things would be different.
Game 66 – Tuesday, 6/14: It was definitely not Atsushi Nohmi‘s strongest outing of the year, though it surely was far from his worst. The end result – 5 shutout innings – was enough to earn him the win, though his control issues (4 free passes) were a little troubling. Mauro Gomez led off the bottom of the second with a double, then advanced on Fumihito Haraguchi‘s single to shallow right. A double play grounder plated the first run. The only question that remained was if our shaky bullpen could possibly keep a team off the board, and today they were called on for four innings of help. Yuya Andoh worked around a single and a walk. Akifumi Takahashi worked around one as well. In the bottom of the seventh, an infield single by pinch hitter Keisuke Kanoh brought in an insurance run. Then Kyuji Fujikawa worked around a walk. Rafael Dolis did the same, and the second balloon toss of the game was on. Final Score: Tigers 2, Buffaloes 0. Team Record: 30-33-3. WP: Nohmi (4-5) SV: Dolis (2)
Game 67 – Wednesday, 6/15: It was a beautiful night for a baseball game. I was able to help nine Elon University students and two faculty members become better acquainted with the Japanese brand of baseball. A victory tonight and we would have eleven more fans in a suburb of Durham! Alas, the team did not receive the memo during the pre-game. No one got a hit for the home team until the third, and the first run of the game wasn’t scored until the fourth inning, when a Ryota Arai sacrifice fly brought Kosuke Fukudome home. Starter Koyo Aoyagi took the single run lead and held it until his start was brought to an end after five innings. The relievers had been kind to Nohmi the day before, but on this night, they simply could not get it done. Daiki Enokida put Marcos Mateo in a bind by putting runners on first and second with two outs, and a hit brought home the tying run. Then two innings later, the wheels fell off the wagon. So did the handle. The sideboards. The screws holding all the remaining pieces together. Takahashi allowed two extra base hits (plus two singles) and Kazuo Itoh allowed another, and the Tiger Ducks left the stadium tarred and feathered. Humiliations galore! Final Score: Buffaloes 5, Tigers 1. Team Record: 30-34-3. LP: Takahashi (3-1)
Game 68 – Thursday, 6/16: Rained out. To be played on Monday, June 20.
Game 71 – Monday, 6/20: Despite the two game losing streak to the Hawks and a danger of finishing interleague play in last place, the Tigers came into this make-up game on a mission to end a few streaks: a 14-game homerless streak, Takashi Toritani‘s 21-at-bat hitless streak, Gomez’s 7-at-bat strikeout streak, and a chance for Fukudome to reach a milestone or two. Some of the above were accomplished, some were not. First, let’s go through the action. Starter Suguru Iwazaki was going on 8 days’ rest, looking to bounce back from a 3-homer loss to the Fighters on the 12th. He would bring his A-game. He only found himself in trouble in two of his seven innings – the first of which came in the third when an infield hit was followed by a bunt that was allowed to roll until it stopped right on the line. In the seventh, his final inning, Iwazaki loaded the bases with three consecutive singles against. Thankfully, the front of the train was lead-footed, and no run scored. He struck out pinch hitter Nakajima (anyone else glad the Tigers’ bid to sign him in 2014 failed?) to get out of the pinch. Unfortunately for him, the only hitters that came out to help were Tsuyoshi Nishioka (2 hits) and the man chasing 1,500 career NPB hits (he got it in the fifth, after a 2nd inning double and followed by 2 walks) and 2,000 career (including MLB) hits – Fukudome. These two set the table three times, and three times were disappointed to be stuck on base when the young hitters towards the bottom of the lineup could not come through with hits. Fortunately, a different young bat bailed the team out in the eighth. A Toritani walk (his hitless streak is active and now 24 at bats) was followed by a Haraguchi home run over the left field wall. Gomez popped out to shallow center, which at least ended his strikeout streak, and the fate of the game, the series, and the taste in our interleague mouths were riding on the right arm of newly-crowned closer Dolis. He came through with a clean ninth, and our terrible run against the Pacific League came to a peaceful end. Final Score: Tigers 2, Buffaloes 0. Team Record: 32-36-3. WP: Fujikawa (3-4). SV: Dolis (3)
Series Notes: Masahiro Nakatani got called up with Mateo on Tuesday. He got his first at bat of the year on Tuesday and struck out swinging. Shintaro Yokota and Naomasa Yohkawa were sent down to the farm after poor results at the plate during their short stints on the first squad… Hayata Itoh had his first at bat of the year on Wednesday, completing the long recovery from the shoulder injury he suffered the day before spring training began… The Tigers have now shut out their opponents 9 times on the year, to just 4 against. Still, the standings do not look favorable for the young team heading into the season’s second half.