It would be hard to blame Hanshin fans for taking the entire week off after last weekend’s drubbing at Koshien, during which the team scored just 3 runs (and just one run batted in) versus 24 against. But this matchup, unlike the last one, was against a comparable opponent. Formidable at the plate, mind you, but awful on the mound. A sweep of this two-gamer would lift the Tigers out of last place heading into the all-star break. Anything less and the team would remain in the basement.
Game 86 – Tuesday 7/12: The teams squared off in Nagano in a rare game away from the urban centers where NPB teams normally play their games. Randy Messenger started off well enough in the first, but ran into trouble with two outs and a runner on third in the second. An RBI grounder just out of the second baseman’s reach was enough to draw first blood against us. Despite a few chances in the first seven innings of the game, the Tigers scoreless streak stretched to 23 innings. Messenger was pinch hit for in the eighth, and it looked like he would be the hard luck loser, until with a full count, Ryosuke Ogata led off with a single.
Captain Basewalker Takashi Toritani took first on five pitches, and pinch hitter Fumihito Haraguchi hit a full count single up the middle to score the tying run. Mauro Gomez gave the team the lead on a nice hit that would not register as a hit – Yamada made an outstanding play at second to get the force out, but the Tigers still had runners on the corners for Shun Takayama, who, in getting his third hit of the day, also gave the team an insurance run. Three relievers (Akifumi Takahashi, Marcos Mateo, Rafael Dolis) combined to keep the Swallows off the board in the last two frames, and the Tigers were on their way to washing the bad taste out of their fans’ mouths. Final Score: Tigers 3, Swallows 1. Team Record: 36-47-3. WP: Messenger (8-6). SV: Dolis (6).
Game 87 – Wednesday 7/13: The team would take full advantage of struggling pitcher Tateyama. Well, not exactly FULL advantage. They backed him into the corner of the ring and instead of knocking him out, they waited until the bell ended each round, then walked calmly back to their corner. Seven hits and two walks through four innings yielded them just a single run, courtesy of a Fumiya Hojoh gapper to left center, which scored Takayama. Then a Kosuke Fukudome home run (his first in 35 or so games) led off the fifth, giving the team a slightly softer cushion. Unfortunately, starter Suguru Iwazaki gave up a solo blast of his own in the bottom of that same inning, and despite a decent night for him, he could not complete the sixth inning. Still, he left the game with the chance to be winning pitcher. That was blown when Takahashi could not strand the runner he inherited in the seventh with two outs. The best chance for a win came in the top of the ninth when runners were on first and second for
Gomez Haraguchi (huh?). Kanemoto elected to pinch hit for the team’s RBI leader, and it did not pay off. Gucci struck out swinging and thanks to some strong bullpen work (2 straight shutout innings from Kyuji Fujikawa), this one went right through until the 11th. The table was nicely set by Tsuyoshi Nishioka (walk, steal) and Taiga Egoshi (single to left), and the man of the match came through nicely with a deep double to the left center wall. Dolis, who had pitched the 10th, stepped up to the plate for the first time in his career, grounding out to third to end the attack, but then he shut down the Swallows to earn the win. For the time being at least (and heading into the all-star break), the Tigers are out of last place! Final Score: Tigers 4, Swallows 2. Team Record: 37-47-3. WP: Dolis (3-2)