No CL team has been hotter since mid-May than the Hiroshima Carp. In fact, they broke free from the pack nicely during interleague play, while the Tigers sputtered and found themselves four games underwater. Still, the season is only half over, and manager Kanemoto says he’s in no way aiming for anything lower than a first place finish. The Tigers would need to chip away at the deficit early and often in order to get back into contention. Turns out they couldn’t chip away at anything at all in this series.
Game 72 – Friday 6/24: Shintaro Fujinami has been extremely weak in the first inning and particularly against the leadoff hitter. This game was no exception. A leadoff double was followed by a sacrifice bunt, two walks. The first of these included a pass ball, allowing the lead runner to score the game’s opening run. Somehow, the onslaught ended there. The Tigers fought back in the top of the second, as Masahiro Nakatani clubbed a double to the left center gap, scoring Fumiya Hojoh from first. They even got the lead two innings later when Hojoh hit one down the left field line to score Kosuke Fukudome. Unfortunately, Fujinami let the fish right back into the game with a leadoff triple in the bottom half of the frame, and eventually that runner scored on a sacrifice fly to center. The game remained quiet after that until shaky reliever Kyuji Fujikawa gave up a leadoff single, stolen base, intentional walk, and with two outs, the game-losing RBI triple to former teammate Takahiro Arai. The top of the ninth started with a little hope, as Nakatani collected an infield hit with no one out, but the game was called due to heavy rain that did not relent for several minutes. Final Score: Carp 4, Tigers 2. Team Record: 32-37-3. LP: Fujikawa (3-5)
Game 73 – Saturday 6/25: The good news is that Atsushi Nohmi did not give up a run in the first inning, which is an improvement on Friday night’s start. The bad news is that he allowed three runs in the third inning (three walks, two hits), plus a fourth run in the fifth (two-out infield hit followed by a double off the right-center wall). The Hanshin bats were powerless against rookie pitcher Okada, until then seventh inning when Nakatani hit a no-doubter just inside the left field foul pole, cutting the deficit in half. A single later, two Tigers hitters came close to tying the game (Shun Takayama hit one to the warning track, Hayata Itoh was thrown out trying to steal second, Takashi Toritani walked after hooking a deep ball foul, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka was just a foot wide of the right foul pole). Alas, no more runs scored that inning or the rest of the way. Final Score: Carp 4, Tigers 2. Team Record: 32-38-3. LP: Nohmi (4-6)
Game 74 – Sunday 6/26: The sweep would only be averted if Yuta Iwasada could clamp down on the Carp bats. And he did at the start of the game. Aside from a second-inning solo home run to (their) Arai, he gave up no hits and one other run through eight innings. The Tigers even fought back from the early lead (with back-to-back RBIs from Mauro Gomez and Fukudome), and then taking the lead in the eighth (RBI double by Fukudome) after being tied up in the sixth. The unfortunate thing is, the ninth inning could not have been worse. Iwasada had thrown just 98 pitches entering the final frame, but was up to 124 by the time he left with two outs, the bases loaded and the score tied at three. Rafael Dolis was brought in to stop the bleeding and hopefully bring this one to extra innings. He induced a fairly routine-looking pop up to left center on his second pitch, but… left fielder Shunsuke thought the ball was his, while center fielder Nakatani thought it was his, and well, the picture above tells it all. They collided, neither ended up with the ball, and the Carp walked off the field with a sweep. The Tigers almost all walked off the field humiliated and defeated. Shunsuke, though, was carried off on a stretcher. No word yet on his condition but we hope he is not seriously injured. Either way, the Tigers are now just a half-game out of last place, and sinking fast. Final Score: Carp 4, Tigers 3. Team Record: 32-39-3. LP: Iwasada (5-5)
Series Notes: Nakatani had his first career 3-hit game (modasho) on Friday, and followed it up with his first career home run on Saturday… Fukudome reached 2,000 career (NPB + MLB) hits with an infield single on Saturday afternoon. The veteran right fielder amassed 1175 hits with the Chunichi Dragons before heading to the USA, where he collected 432 with the Chicago Cubs, 59 with the Cleveland Indians and 7 with the Chicago White Sox, before joining Hanshin and getting the remaining 327… Toritani broke his hitless streak at 29 plate appearances. It is a new career worst, surpassing the 25 he established earlier in the year. Since that hit (a single in his final at bat Friday night) he has gone 8 more without a hit, though he has two walks in that span… Gomez also broke a streak of his own, picking up his first RBI since June 10 (vs. Fighters). He was benched for two games at the end of interleague, and has picked up his game a little since then… The Tigers lost ground on the charging Yakult Swallows, while the rest of the Central stayed close. The standings show that the Carp have almost already run away with the pennant this year.