The weekend series against the Yakult Swallows left a bad taste in the mouths of Hanshin fans. But things were about to get a whole lot harder for the traveling Tigers. Having started the season even (4 wins 4 losses) against the Fish, an ugly, humiliating 9-game losing streak meant this series would probably be the hardest on the remainder of the schedule. But given the 2-game slide at last week’s end, it would also be essential to win this series outright if possible. With better fundamental play, it might have been possible. However, the team regressed back to its clumsy, nervous, inexperienced self instead.
Game 106 – Tuesday 8/9: Early & Late Implosions
Yuta Iwasada started out strongly, giving up just one hit in the first two innings he pitched. For the hitters’ part, they did what they could to tire out Kris Johnson (against whom they have yet to win) early, making him throw 56 pitches through his first two innings of work. Unfortunately, the third inning was when Iwasada forgot his dominant self and remembered who he was in June and July. Hit after walk after hit batsman after hit after walk… in the end, he let the first seven guys he faced reach base and left the bases juiced and three outs still needed to escape the jam. A nervous Ryoma Matsuda walked the first guy he faced and then settled in, getting three more outs without digging the hole any deeper. The counterattack started steadily in the fifth, with Taiga Egoshi hitting a double down the right field line to score a run, and then Keisuke Kanoh (who started in left for the first time since early June) brought him home with a hit to shallow center. The next inning, they brought it even closer with a Fumiya Hojoh sacrifice fly. Unfortunately, with the team digging deep into its bullpen, young reliever Hiroya Shimamoto was called on for two innings even though the first was not very strong. The result was a dam-breaking bottom of the seventh, and another run in the bottom of the eighth was just an extra kick in the junk to start the series on a demoralizing note.
Final Score: Carp 10, Tigers 3. Team Record: 46-57-3. LP: Iwasada (5-8).
Game 107 – Wednesday 8/10: Kyuji Gives Nohmi, Hanshin Fans Ulcers
The key would be not only to shut down the Carp early, but through the middle and end parts of the game as well. (Not too obvious, is it?) Atsushi Nohmi gave up back-to-back one-out singles in the first, then balked home the game’s first run. Not a good omen. In fact, he allowed guys into scoring position in each of the next two innings as well, but came out unscathed. The Tigers evened the score immediately after allowing the Carp to draw first blood, with Hojoh hitting another sacrifice fly and plating Mauro Gomez. Then in the sixth with the bases loaded and two outs, he came up again and this time found the hole between short and third (barely) and gave the Tigers a rare lead. All that was left was to see if the Tigers could extend their lead (they couldn’t) and if the bullpen could back up Nohmi, who gave up just one infield single from the fourth through seventh. The answer to the latter “if” is, BARELY. In the ninth inning, Kyuji Fujikawa came in to close, but walked the bases loaded while getting the first two outs. Facing former Tiger-killer (while with Hanshin) and current Tiger-killer (back with the Carp) Takahiro Arai, he fell behind in the count, and it began to feel like every pitch was another sword in the pop-up pirate. Fortunately for us, though, it was Arai who popped up to end the game.
Final Score: Tigers 2, Carp 1. Team Record: 47-57-3. WP: Nohmi (7-9), SV: Fujikawa (3)
Game 108 – Thursday 8/11: The Self-Destruction Continues
Shintaro Fujinami looked to build on the success he had in his last start. At first it looked as though he might pull it off. He gave up his customary home run to Matsuyama (combined 15-31 vs. Fujinami in the past two seasons) in the bottom of the second, but the Tigers fought back hard, tying it up in the 4th on a Fumihito Haraguchi single, taking the lead on a Takashi Toritani double in the 5th and then padding it with a solo home run from Mauro Gomez in the 6th. A shaky bottom of the sixth (two walks, two strikeouts, tons of pitches by Fujinami) should have been an omen and a sign to pull the ace. Unfortunately they sent him to bat in the seventh, and in the bottom of the inning, he (and the team) fell apart. Hit, hit, bobbled bunt, throw to right field (the latter two by Fujinami himself), stolen base, throw 5 feet wide of home (by Gomez), and a sacrifice fly accounted for four runs against, and the Tigers were unable to mount a comeback. (It should be noted that two hit-and-run calls were botched by guys striking out swinging, resulting in double plays in the 4th and 6th, killing two rallies.) Mistakes were the story in this one. You can’t botch that many plays and expect to beat a first place team.
Final Score: Carp 5, Tigers 3. Team Record: 47-58-3. LP: Fujinami (5-8)