For the final time in 2016, the Hanshin Tigers hit the road. The fact of the matter is, the team has had far better success away from Koshien than it has at Japan’s holy grounds. However, heading into this one, the team that gave it the most misery away from home was, you guessed it, the Chunichi Dragons (3-8). They even had a better road record against the Carp (5-8)! In any case, moving up in the standings means very little anymore, other than a slight draft day disadvantage, and a slight boost in pride and self-esteem.
Game 139 – Saturday 9/24: The Long Awaited Return of Kampoo (完封) Panda
The day before his 35th birthday, Randy Messenger stood on the hero’s podium at Kyocera Dome, having just defeated the Dragons 4-2 and nearly going the distance. He said he wanted the complete game shutout but the pitch count got a little high and they got a few hits in the final frame, resulting in a pitching change. This time, the big man made precious few mistakes. Just one walk and three singles, all in different frames, meaning he never faced more than 4 guys in an inning. He also struck out 11 (including 8 of the first 15 outs he recorded) on his way to nine straight innings of takoyaki on the scoreboard. The bats gave him just enough to earn the win, too – Fumihito Haraguchi hit a solo shot to dead center in the top of the second (his 11th on the year), and Fumiya Hojoh continued his hot batting with a solo job of his own the next inning (his 5th). The team was gifted a huge chance in the ninth with three walks on just one out, but neither hitter (one of whom was Randy) could bring any insurance runs home. In this one, it didn’t matter, though, as Randy shut them down 1-2-3 to close out the game.
Final Score: Tigers 2, Dragons 0. Team Record: 60-76-3. WP: Messenger (12-11)
Game 140 – Sunday 9/25: The Lone Extra Base Hit Made the Difference
The last time the Tigers faced high school graduate Ogasawara, they tore him apart. This time, they started with three strikeouts in the first. Fortunately, our starter, Yuta Iwasada, was on a mission to get closer to double digits in wins on the year, and potentially earning CL Pitcher of the Month honors. He kept putting bagels on the board but needed a lot of pitches to get through his six innings of work. Fortunately for him, the high schooler was equally up to the task of giving out free passes, and with the bases juiced in the fifth, Hiroki Uemoto hit a gapper to clear the bases. Two innings later, with runners on first and second, Kosuke Fukudome punched one through the middle of the infield, giving the Tigers an insurance run. Yuya Andoh helped the last place Dragons break the shutout with a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh. While Cody Satterwhite made things interesting in the eighth (pinch hitter Viciedo could have tied the game with a 3-run home run), but he coaxed a dribbler to second, producing an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play. Marcos Mateo worked around a one-out single to preserve the victory, giving the Tigers their first “perfect week” (4-0) and their third 4-game winning streak on the year.
Final Score: Tigers 4, Dragons 1. Team Record: 61-76-3. WP: Iwasada (9-9) SV: Mateo (19)
Notes: Reliever Rafael Dolis, who has been out since July 31, has returned to North America to have his right elbow looked at. Obviously his season is over, and his return to Hanshin in 2017 is doubtful… Starter Atsushi Nohmi appeared out of the bullpen on Sunday, and will continue to be available in relief the rest of the way… With the win on Sunday, the Tigers ensured that the Dragons would end the year in sixth. The team is now 0.5 games behind the Swallows for fourth. (Standings here) The Tigers host the Swallows on Tuesday at Koshien. A Hanshin loss all but cements them in fifth.