At long last, the Tigers could play on their home field. The high schoolers were long gone and the Kansai region was anxious to be able to cheer on their home team – especially in light of the 4-game winning streak and the ever-heating-up playoff race. Could the Tigers claw their way up into third, or would they slide closer to the fifth place Swallows, whom they hosted over the weekend?
Game 120 – Friday 8/26: A Grand Slam Gift Ends the Streak
Neither pitcher got off to a great start in the opening frame of this one, though neither gave up a run. The first score came in the third inning, when Suguru Iwazaki gave up back-to-back hits followed by a walk. With the bases loaded and someone not named Yamada or Balentien at the dish (both were already on base), a wind-aided first-pitch hit by a part-time player found its way over the left field wall and put the Tigers in a deep hole. It would be added to the next inning as reliever Takumi Akiyama put guys on base and the same part-timer sent a pitch up the middle past a sprawling second baseman. The Tigers fought back in the bottom of the fifth, though, as hot-hitting Shun Takayama hit a two-run triple to the right field corner, and then Kosuke Fukudome legged out a weak grounder to short for a third run. Despite plenty of chances in the later innings of this one (including runners on second and third with one out in the seventh), no more runs scored and the game ended over 4 hours after its starting time. Lots of walks (13 combined) and even more foul balls (uncountable) made this one a very drawn out affair.
Final Score: Swallows 5, Tigers 3. Team Record: 54-63-3. LP: Iwazaki (3-5)
Game 121 – Saturday 8/27: Another Big Blast Beats Tigers Down to Fifth
Koyo Aoyagi started this one in a way that only Koyo Aoyagi could: walking the first batter on four straight pitches. The next guy got on with a little help from bad fielding (Takayama let a ball get past him, giving both runners an extra base) and then two straight groundouts pushed the first two runs across the plate. Aoyagi remained wildly effective the next four innings, while Fumiya Hojoh drove in a run with a single to right in the third inning. But the back-breaker came in the top of the sixth, when Aoyagi plunked Yamada and gave up his first career home run to Balentien, putting this game out of reach. Keisuke Kanoh hit a pinch hit home run in the bottom of the eighth, but the chances before and after yielded no runs, and the Tigers lost their fourth straight contest to the Swallows (after having beaten them 6 in a row), and their fourth straight home game overall.
Final Score: Swallows 5, Tigers 2. Team Record: 54-64-3. LP: Aoyagi (4-4)
Game 122 – Sunday 8/28: Playoff Hopes Flying Out the Window
The Tigers can’t put a rally together against Swallows starter Yamanaka. It’s been proven again and again these past two seasons. This day was no exception, except for the bottom of the first. Hiroki Uemoto smoked a double to left center, Hojoh bunted him over and Takayama hit a sacrifice fly to open the scoring. Unfortunately, Uemoto, who took over at third base from Saturday, committed two errors – the second of which was costly. In the top of the fifth, a soft grounder hit the heel of his glove and gave the Swallows a good start on a rally. Which was continued by their cleanup to the tune of three runs. That would be the end of Yuta Iwasada‘s outing, as he could not get the third strike on enough of their guys. Despite putting the leadoff hitter on base in the second, fourth, fifth and seventh innings, the only one to even get into scoring position was pinch hitter extraordinaire Takashi Toritani, who was gracefully bunted over to second. But the Tigers bats continued to fall victim to the submarine pitcher’s slow stuff, popping up pitch after pitch (17 of their 27 outs in his complete game were pop-outs). The week ends a wash as the sweep on the road earlier gets nullified by an embarrassing sweep at home. Welcome back to Koshien? Hardly. Thanks for spending your final summer vacation weekend at Koshien, kids? Hardly. Playoff hopes dwindling? Yes indeed.
Final Score: Swallows 3, Tigers 1. Team Record: 54-65-3. LP: Iwasada (5-9)