@ BayStars – August 23-25 – Welcome to the Takayama Show!

The Tigers have a combined 4-16 record against the Hiroshima Carp and Yomiuri Giants since the start of July. On the flip side, they have a 14-6 record against the rest of the league since July 1st. For now, they can focus on the rest of the league, as they only have 8 more games total against the top two teams in the league – 7 of which are at home. Also, this series against the BayStars would be their final 3-game set of a really long August, in which they have yet to play a game at Koshien. Could they end the road trip by bridging the gap between them and the third place team out of Yokohama.

Game 117 – Tuesday 8/23: Hit Early, Hit Often

Several opposing pitchers have given the Tigers fits this year. One of them is Shoichi Inoh, the lone BayStars pitcher who has pitched enough innings to qualify for any individual titles. On this day, however, the Tigers absolutely bludgeoned the all-star. A Fumihito Haraguchi bases loaded single was followed by a Masahiro Nakatani bases loaded 2-run double. Then a Ryota Imanari sacrifice fly. Then a Seishiro Sakamoto RBI double. A hit and walk later, the top of the first mercifully ended on a strikeout. But the top of the second, the Tiger bats continued to beat down the home team. Another Nakatani bases loaded hit brought home a run, then Imanari grounded out to short but brought in another run. More damage in the third, as Kosuke Fukudome pounded a double over the left fielder and Haraguchi hit a sacrifice fly. No pitcher in the world could have a problem with this kind of run support. Atsushi Nohmi was solid through four, but had a few hiccups in the next innings – a two-run home run in the fifth and then an RBI single to Tsutsugoh in the sixth. But he still went eight innings, needing just 108 pitches despite allowing nine hits and a walk. This game was won in the first inning, though, and the Tigers were off to the start they needed in this series.

Final Score: Tigers 9, BayStars 3. Team Record: 52-62-3. WP: Nohmi (8-10)

Game 118 – Wednesday 8/24: Making Key Plays at the Right Times

It seems like lately, we don’t know which Shintaro Fujinami is going to show up. This one looked very much like we were going to see the 2016 version – the one who gives up bases (and runs) early and then buckles down when it’s too late. The first man got on base, but fortunately Sakamoto gunned him down. The next guy got on too, and actually stole second, but Fujinami played around Tsuperman and instead faced the mightily struggling Jose Lopez – whom he got out on strikes. The Tigers were facing their ex-mate Kubo on the mound, and while he has had their number in their two previous outings, it would not happen again. After a leadoff walk to Hiroki Uemoto and a bunt forward to second, Shun Takayama turned on what looked like an impossible pitch, and drove it off the right field wall to open the scoring. A Fukudome hit later, with Takayama on third, Kubo threw one in the dirt and Takayama scampered home for a second run. In the bottom of the inning, Fujinami plunked their leadoff hitter, but this time before giving him a chance to steal second, Shintaro picked him off at first. In the top of the next inning, Sakamoto smacked his first career home run over the left field wall, and the attack continued. Fukudome grounded out with the bases loaded, but the throw from second (while attempting a double play) was over the first baseman’s head, and two runs scored instead of one. Then poor Lopez, who is now 30 at bats without a hit, reached first on an error but tried foolishly to take second base. He didn’t notice Sakamoto covering behind first base, and he was easily thrown out in a run-down. For once, all the little plays that teams should make, the Tigers actually made. Only a solo blast to Kajitani would ruin the shutout, but the relief came in and shut down the home team adequately in the final two frames.

Final Score: Tigers 5, BayStars 1. Team Record: 53-62-3. WP: Fujinami (6-9)


Game 119 – Thursday 8/25: Takayama Slugs, Messenger Does it All

Scoring early has worked well for the Tigers in this series, and this one was no different. They took a little longer to heat up, and often waited until there were two outs, but the big bats continued to produce big runs. With the bases loaded and two outs, Fumiya Hojoh brought home the first run. Takayama grounded “out” to third on a controversial call, but he would get his revenge two innings later. With the bases juiced for the second time, he made things right by crushing one to deep right – the Tigers’ first grand slam as a team in two years! And again two innings later with the bases juiced yet again, he slashed a double down the right field line for two more runs. Fukudome helped put this one completely out of reach with a two-run single immediately after. Randy Messenger brought his A-game on this night – he gave up a fair number of hits – several of them for extra bases – but hung tough when he needed to. He also chipped in with three hits in three at bats, scoring two runs. The BayStars finally broke the vault in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out RBI single to left. Yuya Andoh came in to relieve the big righty and surrendered a 2-run home run to Lopez, but that was not enough to even make it close. First road sweep of the year for the Tigers!

Final Score: Tigers 9, BayStars 3. Team Record: 54-62-3. WP: Messenger (11-8)

Series Notes: The Tigers used the same starting lineup two games in a row on Tuesday and Wednesday for the first time (perhaps) since early April. Surprisingly, this lineup did not include Takashi Toritani or Mauro Gomez. Naturally, Tori’s “ironman” streak was allowed to continue as he pinch hit in the ninth inning of both games… Takayama got his 11th and 12th 3-hit games of the year, breaking a Tiger rookie record. He is just two 3-hit games from tying the Central League record, which is held by super legend Shigeo Nagashima… With the sweep, the Tigers pull to within a half game of the third place BayStars. They return to Koshien with a 11-9 record during the long road trip. Standings here.

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T-Ray is the founder, chief writer and Junior Executive Vice President of Hanshin Tigers English News (H-TEN). Find him on Twitter @thehanshintiger.