vs. BayStars – September 2-4 – September Swoon Starts, Sweep Avoided

Five straight losses. Against teams that are beatable. Three at home, and two on the road with your best pitchers starting. Could it get any worse for the Tigers? The only good news was that they would host the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, who had a rough August and who have struggled against our Tigers. But this losing streak was not ready to end when we all flipped our calendars.

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Game 125 – Friday 9/2: Brutal Start, Short-Lived Counterattack

All it took was 8 pitches for spot starter Takumi Akiyama to give up 3 hits and the game’s first run. One out later, their #5 hitter poked one through a drawn-in infield to score two more runs. Facing a three-run deficit, the Tigers could not mount any form of a comeback (just one infield hit through the first four innings) until the fifth, when Mauro Gomez (first HR since August 11) and Masahiro Nakatani hit back-to-back solo jacks to make this one close. When Yamato followed them with a hit and then got bunted over into scoring position (smells like Wada in here!), the team elected to pinch hit for Akiyama, who actually allowed just one more hit in his next four innings, but naturally, the switch did not pay off. Akiyama’s replacement, the red-hot Ryoma Matsuda, allowed a solo home run to the equally red-hot Lopez, pushing the lead back up to two. The Tigers got two runners on base the next inning but it ended with a double play. An inning later, they pinned Nakatani on first after he led off the seventh with a single. In the top of the ninth, Akifumi Takahashi served up a first-pitch home run to Kajitani, and the lead was back to three with just three guys left. And we paraded out all our best remaining pinch hitters with a runner on first – Kohei Shibata (hit by pitch), Ryota Imanari (dribbler single + throwing error = run scores) and Shunsuke (strike out swinging, looked as lost as a Fukuoka country boy in a Tokyo train station).

Final Score: BayStars 5, Tigers 3. Team Record: 54-68-3. LP: Akiyama (0-1)

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Game 126 – Saturday 9/3: Bad Call (?), Bad Luck (?), Bad Defense (?)

The team needed a stop desperately, and could not count on the bats to pull it off. In comes Atsushi Nohmi. He was dealing on this day. Just a second-inning single through the first five innings, while striking out six. Meanwhile, the Tigers somehow managed to manufacture a run when Shun Takayama hit one up the middle in the bottom of the fourth after a Fumiya Hojoh leadoff double (as well as a Yamato base running interference call on his bad bunt attempt). Unfortunately, Nohmi lost some of his control in the sixth, walking the leadoff #8 hitter, and eventually giving up the tying run on a sacrifice fly. A couple of walks later, and he was pulled despite going just 86 pitches and looking pretty good. Fortunately for him, the Bullpen Savior, Cody Satterwhite, cleaned up the mess he was left and pitched another clean inning to boot. Between his trips to the mound, the Tigers made another base running blunder – or so the umps say. Hojoh led off with a walk and then took off for second on a Yamato chopper… also to second. The ball got past Ishikawa and Hojoh took off for third, but before he could reach the bag, the umps ruled him out. Base runner interference. The ball allegedly glanced off his right heel, meaning instead of runners on first and third with no outs, little Yamato was stuck on first with one out. And Takayama struck out. And Yamato got caught stealing. Momentum gone? Nope. Kosuke Fukudome led off the next frame with a solo home run to deep right, putting Satterwhite in position for his first career NPB win. But then Kyuji Fujikawa happened in the eighth. Strikeout. Single. Infield single. (Yamato brilliantly laid out to stop it from reaching the outfield, but his flip toss to Hojoh was better suited for Fujinami (197 cm) than the little SS (177 cm). Strikeout. Runners on 1 & 2 for Tsutsugoh. He hit one high and shallow to left. Takayama charged too late, Ball drops. Bounces off him. Two runs score. Lead gone. Game gone. (For the record, Shibata and Imanari pinch hit grounded out back-to-back in the eighth of this one.) Yamato’s line: 3 grounders, 1 failed bunt, 1 failed stolen base, one missed glove toss. Will be benched on Sunday, no doubt.

Final Score: BayStars 3, Tigers 2. Team Record: 54-69-3. LP: Fujikawa (5-6)

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Game 127 – Sunday 9/4: Late Rally Earns Tigers Long-Awaited Win

Yuta Iwasada vs. Shota Imanaga. These two had already faced off twice this season – the first time in late April, with the Tiger getting the win on a big 2-run home run by one of his friends. The second time in mid-May, the BayStar got his revenge with a 3-1 win. This one looked to be a good one, too. Iwasada kept things really close, missing badly on his second pitch of the second inning, and putting his team in a small deficit. The Tigers hitters, who had problems solving Imanaga in both other outings, looked equally lost in this one. They led off the bottom of the second with back-to-back singles from Fukudome and Fumihito Haraguchi, but veterans Keisuke Kanoh (starting in left) and Takashi Toritani could not convert them, and the game remained a toothpick to takoyaki for several innings, with neither team generating chances. Until the bottom of the eighth. Hojoh hit a one-out single, then Hiroki Uemoto slashed one into right center – both runners got two bases out of it, giving Takayama a prime chance to give the team a much-needed late lead. The top CL hitter with RISP didn’t disappoint. His soft liner to center found grass before glove and one run scored. An out later, Haraguchi smoked one over the drawn-in left fielder, and the lead was two. Marcos Mateo came in and worked around a one-out single to preserve the lead and help the losing streak end. At last.

Final Score: Tigers 3, BayStars 1. Team Record: 55-69-3. WP: Iwasada (6-9), SV: Mateo (16)

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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.

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