For some reason, the Hanshin Tigers have played relatively well at Kyocera Dome Osaka in recent years. It is definitely not as electric an atmosphere as Koshien Stadium, but for this series, which coincided with the Japanese obon holiday season, the house was packed and home field advantage could be felt. Still, when facing a team that had lost 9 straight 3-game series coming into this one, expectations were high that the Tigers could atone for a rough series earlier in the week.
Game 109 – Friday 8/12: Messenger Goes 8+, Wins 10th, Celebrates 35th (a day early)
It was a battle of the import pitchers, and early on this one looked to be a classic hurlers’ duel. Through three innings, the lone hit (other than batters) was a soft dribbler to shortstop by Viciedo. Randy Messenger was throwing gas and foiling hitters right from the start, and it was a good thing – at least early on. The first time through their hitting order, the Tigers could manage nary a hit. That changed in the fourth inning when Taiga Egoshi clubbed one deep over the left field wall to break the bank. Two innings later, Kosuke Fukudome took the first pitch he saw over the right field wall to double the lead. One inning after that, Fumiya Hojoh hit one to the depths of the gap in left center, legging out at triple and bringing home a third run. And an inning later, Mauro Gomez pushed one through the left side of the infield to plate another insurance marker. All that was left was to see if Randy could complete the shutout in the last inning before his birthday (Saturday). It started with a strikeout, but then a hit and a walk were followed by a towering double off the right field wall, scoring a first run. That would be the end of Randy’s night, two outs shy of finishing what he started. Marcos Mateo came in, forced a (run scoring) grounder to the first guy he faced, then a pop-up to shallow right to the last guy. The outcome was never in question until the final inning, but even then it felt like a win all the way. Happy early birthday, Randy!
Final Score: Tigers 4, Dragons 2. Team Record: 48-58-3. WP: Messenger (10-7); SV: Mateo (13)
Game 110 – Saturday 8/13: A Wildly Effective Goat and Hojoh’s Mojoh
It would be no joking matter to face Jordan Norberto again. He seems to bring his best game against our boys, but another statistic about him will give you hope: his ERA outside of Nagoya Dome was an unsightly 5.22 heading into this one. Hojoh led off the game with a double and scored on a fielder’s choice. The lead doubled before the frame was over, as Egoshi took home on a wild pitch. Despite another Hojoh double in the second, the score remained the same until the 21-year old hit his second home run of the year – this coming in his third at bat of the game in the fifth inning. The team would add one more in the bottom of the seventh on Yamato‘s gapper to left center, which plated Masahiro Nakatani. Our starter, Koyo Aoyagi, gave up a leadoff hit in the first inning and nothing after that (aside from his customary walks) through six innings. Cody Satterwhite took care of the seventh, but unfortunately, the Kyuji Fujikawa we saw last week came back again in this one, giving up three straight hits before being pulled with one out in the eighth. Two runs would eventually score (one on a wild throw to second by catcher Fumihito Haraguchi), but Shun Takayama brought Fukudome home from third in the bottom of the frame. Mateo took the mound again in the ninth, closing down with ease. With this loss, the Dragons have now lost 10 consecutive 3-game series now. Ouch.
Final Score: Tigers 5, Dragons 2. Team Record: 49-58-3. WP: Aoyagi (4-2); SV: Mateo (14)
Game 111 – Sunday 8/14: Played Out Like a Summer Koshien Game
When the other team puts a high school graduate (Ogasawara) on the mound, no matter how good he might have been last year at Koshien, you’ve got to punish him and stop him from getting his first career win. Egoshi made sure of that, lifting a first inning pitch into the left field stands for his second bomb of the series. Three innings later, the young starter self-combusted. He walked Hanshin pitcher Suguru Iwazaki with the bases loaded (for his first RBI of the year), then gave up another run on a grounder to short, and got knocked out of the game by a Yamato RBI double. His reliever, Yamai, fared no better the next inning. Leadoff single for Haraguchi, hard-fought walk for Gomez, and an opposite-field homer for Takayama. Iwazaki was not at his best, but he didn’t have to be. He escaped a first inning jam (bases loaded, one out) and after that did not allow more than a base runner at a time through six. He gave up a solo shot to his number counterpart (#67) in the seventh, then a single, but escaped the inning with a double play. The game played itself out without any more action, and the Tigers cruised to victory in this one, getting their second sweep of the season.
Final Score: Tigers 8, Dragons 1. Team Record: 50-58-3. WP: Iwazaki (3-4)
Series Notes: Takashi Toritani was benched again for the entire series, as the Dragons sent southpaws to the hill to start all three games. The team is now 10-1 in games in which he does not start… 3B Matt Hague (remember him?) is working back from a right shoulder injury and has not even seen action on the farm… 1B Viciedo (the Tiger killer) got tangled up with 2B Takahashi in the bottom of the 8th in a pop fly to shallow right and injured his ankle. He hobbled off the field and then did not play in the series finale… With a double in the fourth, Takayama became the sixth rookie in club history (and first since Norihiro Akahoshi) to mark 100 hits in his rookie season… On Sunday, the team wore hats with the number 10 stitched on the bill to commemorate the 100th birthday of the late Fumio Fujimura, the “original” Mr. Tigers… The Tigers were able to move a little closer to the top half of the league, but still have a way to go. Standings here.