There’s no moving up in the standings too far if you can’t beat the teams at the top. After a humiliating two-game mini-series against the CL-leading Carp, the Tigers looked to redeem themselves against the second place Yomiuri Giants on the weekend. Redemption, minimal as it was, didn’t come until the last inning of play on Sunday.
Game 114 – Friday 8/19: One Team Capitalizes, One Team Fizzles
Randy Messenger said in an interview on Thursday that he cared little for individual titles but just wanted to win and make the playoffs. It took two innings for those words to come crumbling to the ground, as the Giants took two runs in the first (bases loaded single and groundout to third), then another in the second (double off the right center wall). The Tigers got one back in the fourth as Shun Takayama hit into a 6-4-3 double play with the bases loaded and no outs. Then in the fifth, Masahiro Nakatani hit a towering shot to the left field bleachers to even the score. Unfortunately, the Giants returned the favor when Randy served up a fat pitch to nemesis Shinnosuke Abe (who has owned Mess every year but 2012), and it got out of the park in a hurry. Reliever Yuya Andoh gave up a series of hits the next inning to increase the deficit, and the Tigers were unable to capitalize on their remaining chance – runners on first and second in the seventh inning. All in all, thirteen base runners resulted in just three runs for the visitors.
Final Score: Giants 6, Tigers 3. Team Record: 50-61-3. LP: Messenger (10-8)
Game 115 – Saturday 8/20: One Team Walks a Lot, One Team Whiffs
This one started with a great chance as leadoff hitter (and new full-time shortstop) Fumiya Hojoh ripped a double down the left field line. Unfortunately no one could cash him in, and the Tigers took to the field. Koyo Aoyagi issued a one-out walk, then a couple of singles, and a misplayed relay throw from the outfield (by third baseman Naomasa Yohkawa) brought home a second run. The Tigers led off the second with a single, but failed to get the runner into scoring position, let along across home plate. Ditto the third. Meanwhile, the ‘Blue Goat’ kept walking their guys, getting into all sorts of trouble the rest of his start (which lasted 5 2/3 innings and included 7 walks and one hit batter), but somehow keeping the Giants off the board. Cody Satterwhite mowed down their cleanup hitters in the seventh, but the Tigers actually failed to get anyone on base after the third inning. They struck out 10 times through eight innings (5 swinging, 5 looking). A Garrett Jones solo shot off Kyuji Fujikawa would round out the scoring, as the Tigers suffered their fourth straight loss against the upper echelon of the Central.
Final Score: Giants 3, Tigers 0. Team Record: 50-62-3. LP: Aoyagi (4-3)
Game 116 – Sunday 8/21: Six Inches from Sayonara Sweep
The biggest question here, besides whether or not the Tigers would be swept, was, “Which Yuta Iwasada would we see on the mound?” The young lefty was invincible and unstoppable through the end of May, ending his incredible start with a complete game shutout against the Giants at Tokyo Dome on May 27. The June/July Iwasada looked like he belonged on the farm or even worse. But something happened in that last start of July. He seemed to find his early season self after a first inning shellacking. He was lights-out in Yokohama for his first start of August, too, and looked amazing for two innings of his start two weeks ago against Hiroshima. But then… a complete meltdown in the third inning. (I’m long-winded here because this game went by really quickly.) This one featured a ton of strikeouts, grounders and innocent fly balls through nearly 7 whole innings. The next-to-last batter of the seventh jacked one into the left field stands, giving the home team a lead and hopes of a sweep. But with two outs in the top of the eighth, freshly recalled Hiroki Uemoto went yard himself, a no doubter to left center. The game remained tied despite a one-out double off the wall in left off reliever Ryoma Matsuda. It was literally 6 inches from clearing the wall and ending the game. But the young righty calmed down and got the next two outs. In the top of the tenth, a one-out walk to Masahiro Nakatani was followed by a two-out walk to Uemoto and then a gapper by Hojoh to score the two runners. Takashi Toritani was already in the game, having had his customary pinch hit in the top of the ninth, and in his second at bat, found the tiny space between 3B Murata’s glove and the turf. The ball scampered into left, scoring one more insurance run. Marcos Mateo came in for the bottom of the frame and shut down the game, ensuring a Tigers win. They end the season 6-6 at Tokyo Dome, a marked improvement over last year’s paltry 2-11 record.
Final Score: Tigers 4, Giants 1. Team Record: 51-62-3. WP: Matsuda (1-0)