Nothing is on the line anymore, with the exception of a few records and perhaps a leg up on the competition for playing time next season. Maybe for some, a strong performance in these final few games is a plea for one more contract, one more season. Either way, the 5-game winning streak the Tigers rode into these final two games of the season felt good for fans and players alike. But the only way to end the season now is to win it out, especially against these Yomiuri Giants, especially in light of the 1-9-1 home record on the year – uglier numbers than the 2-11 at Tokyo Dome last year.
Game 142 – Friday 9/30: Last Minute Comeback, Winning RBI from Unlikely Source
The parade of zeroes to start this one was alarming. Obviously the ones Shintaro Fujinami put up for the opposition were encouraging (particularly the no walks, no runs in the first), but the fact that the bats could not do anything against Utsumi (yet again) meant that the longer this game went, the more it looked as though the first team to score would win. Fujinami eventually left the mound after 6 innings and just 82 pitches, while his counterpart went 7 and threw 121. It was not until the top of the eighth that the first non-ovular number went up on the scoreboard, and that was after Chono blasted a Suguru Iwazaki offering off the bottom of the center field wall with the outfielders drawn in, scoring the runner from second. The bottom of the inning went by too quickly and it looked like the ninth might, too. With one out, though, the game turned completely around. Shun Takayama established a new team record with 136 hits in his rookie season – this one off closer Sawamura’s ankle and too slippery for the third baseman to handle. Fumihito Haraguchi advanced him to third with a single of his own. Kosuke Fukudome tied the score with a first-pitch seeing-eye single through the left side. Takashi Toritani loaded the bases with a blistering line drive to right. And with an out and the game on the line, our starting center fielder, Shunsuke, comes to the dish. He of the .150 batting average. Of just 3 RBIs on the year. Of just 40 RBIs in 812 ABs in his first 6 pro seasons. Who could be cut at any time and no one would bat an eyelash. Somehow he got just enough of the ball to score Haraguchi from third on a sacrifice fly to (somewhat) shallow center field.
Final Score: Tigers 2, Giants 1. Team Record: 63-76-3. WP: Kazuyuki Kaneda (1-0)
Game 143 – Saturday 10/1: Ending the Season, Fukuhara’s Career on a High Note
Perhaps the hottest pitcher in NPB in September, Yuta Iwasada would get a chance to pick up his tenth win and whittle his ERA down even further. He took full advantage of the chance given him, getting out of first inning pinch with a strikeout and a second inning jam with a grounder. After that he was smooth until the seventh, when with runners on the corners and two outs, he induced a grounder, preserving his shutout. The bats came out to play right from the start of this one. After having an RBI taken away from Haraguchi (ball got jammed in the wall, resulting in a ground rule double and the runner advancing to third), Mauro Gomez slashed a ball into center field to score both runners in the bottom of the first. Fumiya Hojoh followed that up with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second, and Hiroki Uemoto hit a two-run double in the bottom of the seventh. That’s when the game got a little emotional. Shinobu Fukuhara, who had announced his retirement a couple of weeks prior, took the ball from manager Tomoaki Kanemoto, got one guy out, and passed the ball on to longtime teammate and friend Yuya Andoh. He proceeded to finish up the inning cleanly, and the bats responded with another run in the bottom of that inning – Fukudome hit a sacrifice fly to score Yamato. The final inning was given to 19-year old 4th round pick Atsushi Mochizuki, who worked around one hit to close off the season with a shutout win for the Tigers.
Final Score: Tigers 6, Giants 0. Final Team Record: 64-76-3. WP: Iwasada (10-9)