After last week’s sweep at the hands of the Giants, the club was on a 7-game home losing streak, with its last Koshien win coming June 28 against the BayStars. A six-pack at home against the other lower teams in the Central would be a chance for the Tigers to show their mettle. Summer break was on. The stands were dyed yellow by the jersey giveaways at all three games. If this could not get them a winning week, nothing would.
Game 94 – Tuesday 7/26: It didn’t take long for the question to be answered. Has Yuta Iwasada really lost it? Four hitters into the game, the score was 3-0 for the visitors, courtesy of an opposite-field home run off the bat of MLB-bound (the sooner, the better) Tetsuto Yamada. And that was all the Swallows managed the rest of the night. Iwasada turned back into his April/May self in the next 6 innings he pitched, allowing just one hit and walking one. These Tigers bats, though, took awhile to get going. But they did get going. In the fourth, Kosuke Fukudome‘s single was followed by a Fumihito Haraguchi double, a Mauro Gomez RBI single, a Ryota Arai RBI double and a Yamato sacrifice fly to even the score. It remained that way until Swallows reliever and therapist (insert space where you see fit) Josh Lueke served Gomez a nice pitch to launch into the stands just left of the center field screen. Rafael Dolis worked around a 2-out single to preserve the win. Final Score: Tigers 5, Swallows 3. Team Record: 39-52-3. WP: Fujikawa (4-5) SV: Dolis (8)
Game 95 – Wednesday 7/27: This one looked like it might start with a deficit as Tuesday’s game did. In the top of the second, Atsushi Nohmi walked the leadoff batter before allowing consecutive shallow singles, to load the bases with no outs. (Our team is awful in this situation, how would other teams fare?) Our veteran lefty struck out the next guy and induced a 3-2-3 double play to escape the inning unscathed. The bats didn’t heat up until the fourth. That’s when they went off like popcorn being heated on a stovetop. Single, single, Haraguchi 3-run home run, single, single, Fumiya Araki RBI single (first of his career), bunt, 2-run Shun Takayama single, walk, single, Fukudome RBI walk, Haraguchi 2-run single, single, double play. Whew! The game result was no longer in question, except how deep Nohmi would go. He kept on piling up the outs and keeping his pitch count low, so he was allowed to go the distance. It took him just 104 pitches to get his first complete game shutout of the year, and the Tigers’ 5-game losing streak last week was almost forgotten as the team matched its season-best winning streak at 3. Final Score: Tigers 9, Swallows 0. Team Record: 40-52-3. WP: Nohmi (6-8)
Game 96 – Thursday 7/28: Starter Koyo Aoyagi cruised through the Swallows hitting order the first time, giving them no bases in three innings. But with two outs in the fourth, he hiccuped and burped his way to the game’s first run. Fortunately for him, the Tigers continued their 4th inning magic from the day before, as Haraguchi gave Fukudome an easy trot home after the latter’s one-out triple to right. Gomez brought Haraguchi and himself home on a frozen rope bomb to left. The team continued to bludgeon the Swallows starter, though, and Fumiya Hojoh‘s squeeze bunt brought Ryota Arai (double, wild pitch) home from third. The party continued in the fifth, as Haraguchi swept the juiced bases clean with a double to left center and fans got to dance again to the tune of another Gomerun, this one easily clearing the wall in center. After the game had been broken wide open, however, the Hanshin pitchers (Aoyagi and then Yuya Andoh) gave the Swallows a little hope, walking five guys in the top of the sixth and letting three runs score. The visitors added another in the seventh as Akifumi Takahashi proved that lefty pitchers don’t necessarily have an advantage over lefty hitters. But the Tigers sealed this one in the bottom of the eighth with a Yamato double to right (which could have easily been called an error). The three hottest relievers in the Central combined to shut the door on the visitors in the final 2 2/3 innings, and the sweep was complete. Final Score: Tigers 10, Swallows 5. Team Record: 41-52-3. WP: Aoyagi (3-2)
Series Notes: Kyuji Fujikawa recorded his 1000th career strikeout (MLB & NPB combined) on Tuesday night. This came in 741 NPB innings plus 26 2/3 innings in the majors… Takashi Toritani did not start any of the games in this series, and in fact only made minimal streak-extending appearances at the end of each game… Nohmi’s complete game shutout on Wednesday was his first since late April 2015… Haraguchi’s 5-RBI fourth inning was the first for the club since Tomoaki Kanemoto accomplished the feat in August 2003. It tied a club record… Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who turned 32 on Wednesday, underwent successful surgery on his achilles tendon on Tuesday. He hopes to make a comeback in 2017… The Tigers have their first 4-game winning streak of the season, and also their first series sweep of the year. They also have a 5-game winning streak against the Swallows, who have found their way back in last.