Three straight series wins and an exciting come-from-behind victory on Thursday gave Tigers fans plenty to talk about. But this team of mostly youngsters was still sitting 9 games under .500 and 4 games out of a playoff spot heading into this one. Could they take a chunk out of both of those numbers against the struggling, injury-decimated Swallows? The answer, in a word, is no.
Game 103 – Friday 8/5: It was looking like more of the same struggles for starter Shintaro Fujinami as he gave the first hitter a free base, but a failed stolen base attempt ended the first with the minimum batters faced. In the top of the second, the Swallows’ characteristic pitching woes came through as Davies brought a run home on a wild pitch, then gave up an RBI single to our hurler. He managed to scatter two hits over his seven innings of work, scarcely feeling threatened by the Swallows bats, even the mighty that remain healthy. The rest of the game was about rookie Shun Takayama showing Swallows manager Manaka what he missed out on in last year’s draft. A first-pitch RBI single in the top of the fifth, and a bases loaded 2-run single in the top of the eighth put this one out of question. The team was not finished punishing Swallows pitchers just yet, though. Mauro Gomez hit a two-run blast to deep center and Hayata Itoh followed it up with a solo blast to right. This one was all Tigers from start to finish. Final Score: Tigers 8, Swallows 0. Team Record: 46-54-3. WP: Fujinami (5-7)
Game 104 – Saturday 8/6: The Tigers were in trouble from the get go against a pitcher they have not figured out in years. Submarine hurler Yamanaka kept the boys in pinstripes off the board the entire game, save a solo shot from Kosuke Fukudome in the fourth. On the other side of the ball, starter Randy Messenger struggled early, and never really got settled in. Thirty-two pitches in, he trudged back to the dugout drenched in sweat but with the game still knotted. The same luck would not be his in the third. Two hits and two walks – including one with the bases loaded – gave the Swallows the first score, and a light single to left combined with Takayama’s fielding error brought in two more. Their pitcher chopped one over first base an out later, scoring a fourth run. When the next batter swatted one to left for a sacrifice fly, the mighty righty was pulled with runners still on base (and on his tab). Fortunately, reliever Hiroya Shimamoto shut the door and prevented further damage. As previously mentioned, the Tigers got just the single run off Fukudome’s bat, and the Swallows added another in the eighth when a ball popped out of Takashi Toritani‘s outstretched glove. The fireworks at Jingu Stadium were clearly not matched by the visitors’ bats, and the series was now even at one. Final Score: Swallows 6, Tigers 1. Team Record: 46-55-3. LP: Messenger (9-7)
Game 105 – Sunday 8/7: The Tigers opened the scoring with Toritani swatting an RBI triple to right center, plating Takayama. Unfortunately, when you play the Swallows you do have to face the big bats. Hanshin has done a good job of containing Tetsuto Yamada so far this year, but Suguru Iwazaki learned a lesson in the bottom of the fourth, as the young prodigy sent one out in a hurry just east of the left field pole. Lead reversed. Fortunately, the Swallows pitching was giving out free bases every opportunity they had, and eventually a Fumihito Haraguchi single through the left side of the infield brought home another run, tying the game. But the top of the fifth continued and the bases swelled. Pinch hitter Keisuke Kanoh skied one to shallow right, but miscues resulted in a dropped ball and two runs coming in. The next inning, Toritani laced one to left, but somehow it averted Balentien’s clumsy glove and scampered to the wall as the captain scampered to third and Takayama put his spikes down on home plate. This one was not over, though, as the Swallows stormed back for a run in the sixth and two in the seventh – two of which came from walking the heart of their lineup. Though he blew the lead in the seventh, Kyuji Fujikawa was trotted out for the eighth as well and gave the Swallows the lead outright. Somehow, the Tigers accepted generosity from the Swallows closer (more walks – 9 in the game plus 4 hit batsmen) and a Taiga Egoshi single tied the game up once again. Unfortunately, the other solid reliever we’ve been trotting out in tight situations, Marcos Mateo, was also due for a breakdown. In the 10th, three consecutive hits set Swallows fans’ umbrellas off and the game – and series – belonged to them. Final Score: Swallows 7, Tigers 6. Team Record: 46-56-3. LP: Mateo (1-3)
Series Notes: Hayata was called up before Friday’s game, replacing Ryosuke Ogata, who was sent down after an unspectacular stint with the top squad… The Tigers’ season-best 6-game win streak against the Swallows came to an end on Saturday night… The Tigers are back to 10 games back underwater. Standings here.