As the team record spirals further downward, one of the few things the Tigers have left to hang their hat on is a winning record at Tokyo Dome this season. Heading into this series, the boys were 4-2 on the year, and looked to extend their dominance in a stadium that gave them all sorts of fits last season. As things turned out, they retain their winning record on Giant turf, but looked like two very different teams over the course of these three games. Unfortunately, Dr. Jekyll made his only appearance on Thursday. Or should we say, Mr. Hyde reared his ugly head for most of the matchup, particularly the sixth innings of Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s matches.
Game 80 – Tuesday 7/5: If you thought Randy Messenger‘s start last Tuesday was dominant, you are right. But he one-upped himself in this one, striking out 10 and allowing no base runners through five innings. The bats were unable to give him a lead, though, and in the sixth inning with one out, a hit was followed by a bunt (which was misfielded by Mauro Gomez) and an RBI single (which glanced off Messenger’s glove, just out of second baseman Hiroki Uemoto‘s reach), a sacrifice fly and another RBI single, putting the home team in the driver’s seat. In the lucky seventh, the bats (and eyes) fought back, producing a few singles and earning a run on Fumihito Haraguchi‘s bases loaded walk. They got another in the eighth on a Takashi Toritani solo home run to right. In the ninth, they put runners on the first two bases, but pinch hitter Hayata Itoh grounded out to first on the first pitch he saw to end the rally and the game. Final Score: Giants 3, Tigers 2. Team Record: 34-43-3. LP: Messenger (7-6).
Game 81 – Wednesday 7/6: Would you believe another Tigers starter pitched an amazing five innings but fell victim to a sixth inning barrage? Suguru Iwazaki looked in control from the start, retiring the first 11 batters he faced, and not giving up a run until a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth tied the score. That first run by the Tigers came when Kosuke Fukudome managed an infield single just out of the second baseman’s range (ball fielded but no throw). Unfortunately, Iwazaki fell victim to some hard luck in the sixth, when a walk was followed by two infield hits and then a masterful piece of hitting by cleanup hitter Abe (who slashed a low fastball up the middle) to score two runs. Despite putting men on the corners (with no outs in the fourth, and again with one out in the seventh) the team could not push anyone else over home plate, and the Tigers yielded yet another close one to the home team. Final Score: Giants 3, Tigers 1. Team Record: 34-44-3. LP: Iwazaki (1-3)
Game 82 – Thursday 7/7: It was “When You Wish Upon a Star” Day in Japan, and the Tigers needed to hope against hope that spot starter Koyo Aoyagi could hold the Giants bats to a minimum. Or that miraculously, the bats would come to life. Or both. Fortunately, both wishes came true. In the first inning after a leadoff out, Giants starter Takagi (who had never lost to the Tigers in his career) walked two straight hitters, and then Fukudome hit a 2-RBI double to the left-center gap. Two innings later with a runner on first, Gomez broke out of a 32-game homer-less drought with a deep shot to right center. This was the end of Takagi’s night, but it wasn’t the end of Gomez’s. With the bases loaded and one out in the top of the fifth, he ripped one through the left side of the infield to score three more. The rout was on, and was aided by a nearly flawless performance by Aoyagi, who showed great poise on the mound. He allowed just one hit in seven innings of work (to go with four walks and 6 strikeouts). While everything has been going wrong for the Tigers of late, it was nice for them to win a comfortable one for the first time in what feels like ages. Final Score: Tigers 6, Giants 0. Team Record: 35-44-3. WP: Aoyagi (2-1)
Series Notes: Kazuya Tsutsui was sent back to the farm pretty quickly after his promotion, making room for Tsuyoshi Ishizaki, who returned from elbow discomfort. He pitched a clean inning on Wednesday, keeping his ERA at zero (7 appearances) on the year so far… Masahiro Nakatani went 4-4 (singles to all fields) on Wednesday, a first in his young career… To make room for Aoyagi on the active roster, the team sent Ryota Arai down to the farm, where he started the season but got called up on April 24… The team slipped out of last place, and will host the league-leading Hiroshima Carp for three at home on the weekend. GO TIGERS!