The Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants have a long, bitter rivalry, and every year the two clubs try to pump up the season’s matchups with colorful ads on which the words 伝統の一戦 (Legendary/Classic Series) appear. But last year the Tigers won just 2 of 13 at Tokyo Dome, and this year so far, they brought their punching bag act to Koshien, where heading into this series, they were 0-6-1 against their biggest foes. Could the team’s “best pitchers” help bring a little more meaning to the series? No (thanks for our fielders), no (thanks to their center fielder) and no (thanks to our bullpen).
Game 128 – Tuesday 9/6: Poor Fundamentals Sinks Cats Again
After a forgettable outing last Tuesday, Shintaro Fujinami was looking for a little redemption. He would not get it. Two base runners in the first and then loaded bases in the second without a single out – he looked every bit as lost as he did the last time he stood on a mound. But he escaped the second with just a sacrifice fly scoring a run. Unfortunately, two innings later, facing Giants pitcher Sugano and a runner on second, he allowed a double to the right-center gap. Then in the fifth, the defense took over. Hiroki Uemoto, who had already made a couple of bad plays in the field, threw away the first half of a double play grounder, and a third run scored for the bad guys. The bottom half of the inning featured a mini-rally in which Fumiya Hojoh, Uemoto, Shun Takayama and Kosuke Fukudome hit consecutive two-out singles, and the game was close once again. Unfortunately, they were unable to push the tying run across the plate. Marcos Mateo entered in the top of the ninth to keep it close and give them a chance at a miracle comeback, however, a costly and fatal error on a hit to center (which got past soon-to-be-cut Kohei Shibata*) brought a runner to third base, and then a pass ball (which got past soon-to-be-converted Fumihito Haraguchi*) allowed an insurance run to score. Shibata got on base to “atone” for his error in the bottom half of the frame, but Haraguchi could not erase his own sin – he grounded into a game-ending double play. (*Both of these are speculation.)
Final Score: Giants 4, Tigers 2. Team Record: 55-70-3. LP: Fujinami (6-11)
Game 129 – Wednesday 9/7: All Abe All Night
It’s no secret that Randy Messenger does not have great success against Giants’ 1B (former catcher) Abe. On this night, Abe punctuated the sentence with a few more exclamation marks. In the top of the first, he hit the first pitch he saw down the right field line for an RBI double. In the third, he sliced one into left for an RBI single. In the fifth, he kept a rally going with another single, this one leading to an eventual RBI single by Garrett Jones. The Tigers finally managed a little counter-attack in the bottom of the fifth, when (who else?) Takayama slashed one into left, bringing home pinch hitter Uemoto. That would be all the Tigers could manage against Taguchi, and despite a great chance in the eighth (runners on second and third with two outs and Takashi Toritani up), a diving catch from their center fielder prevented the captain from living up to his cheer song. No, he was not the hero, and hasn’t been for ages. Hojoh hit a two-out solo home run in the bottom of the ninth, but that was it. No tie game, no dramatics, still no wins at home against the Giants in 2016.
Final Score: Giants 3, Tigers 2. Team Record: 55-71-3. LP: Messenger (11-10)
Game 130 – Thursday 9/8: The Shot That Broke Carp Fans’ Hearts
I’m not sure who is teaching these Tigers to hit, but he’s probably not very good at teaching. Again the Tigers looked completely fooled most of the night, chasing pitches way out of the strike zone and whiffing their way to short stints in the dugout. Only in the fourth did they put together a couple of hits (Yamato leadoff double, Fukudome RBI single) to put a single digit up. Meanwhile, someone taught Koyo Aoyagi to throw strikes during his 10 days off the top roster, because he mowed down the Giants in rather impressive fashion, save a first inning in which he gave up three straight singles (but no runs). His control betrayed him in the top of the eighth, though, when he plunked a left-handed batter, then a righty. And that was the end of his night. Too bad Kanemoto chose the wrong reliever, though. Kyuji Fujikawa served up a juicy breaking ball to pinch hitter Hayato Sakamoto and the Giants fans in left celebrated that their season would go on for one more day. Despite the Carp winning and pushing all other Central teams to the brink of elimination, this three-game sweep meant the red fish will not clinch the pennant on their home turf. In fact, if the Giants lose on Friday to the Swallows, they will clinch on their day off. (If not, they go to Tokyo Dome for the weekend with the pennant theirs for the taking.)
Final Score: Giants 3, Tigers 1. Team Record: 55-72-3. LP: Aoyagi (4-5)