Photos courtesy of Tim Herr
Kris Johnson won the Sawamura Award last year and gave up just 7 earned runs to the Hanshin Tigers all season. (He did even better against the Dragons and Giants, but let’s leave that aside for now.) The defending champion Hiroshima Carp looked to start their season with a triumphant win over Hanshin at home. They even got to face Randy Messenger, who had a 12.46 ERA against them last season. But Randy said he didn’t care. He was ready to start a new year. And so were the Hanshin Tigers.
First Inning: There was no indication whatsoever that this team couldn’t score on Johnson. Shun Takayama got on board with an infield single, as did Hiroki Uemoto. Then newly acquired Yoshio Itoi fought back from an 0-2 count to earn a walk, loading the bases with no outs. Kosuke Fukudome grounded into a double play, but a run scored. Then Fumihito Haraguchi drove a double to the left-center gap, increasing the lead to 2. Hiroshima got guys on base in the bottom of the inning, but could not score. Hanshin 2, Hiroshima 0.
Second Inning: Hanshin batters went down in order, and Messenger walked the first guy he faced. A bloop single just over first base scored that run eventually, but Randy stopped them from scoring any more. Hanshin 2, Hiroshima 1.
Third Inning: Takayama showed that his first hit was no fluke, as he drove one to right for a single. Uemoto picked up a walk, and then Itoi hit an opposite field 2-run double to stretch the lead even further. But the boys were not done there. Fukudome took one for the team, Haraguchi took a walk, and after a Fumiya Hojoh strikeout, Takashi Toritani drove one up the middle for another run. In the bottom half of the frame, Messenger mowed them down in order (for the first time in the game). Hanshin 5, Hiroshima 1.
Fourth Inning: Takayama’s grounder to third was fielded alright but thrown poorly, and he made his way to second base. Uemoto advanced him to third on a grounder, and then Itoi pulled one down the line to score Takayama easily. Fukudome got another single, Hojoh walked, and Toritani brought a run home, thanks only to an error by the Hiroshima shortstop. Johnson’s night was over early. Messenger got three quick outs and was back in the dugout. Hanshin 7, Hiroshima 1.
Sixth Inning: Fukudome’s one-out single was followed by a Haraguchi single, a Toritani two-out walk, and then a Ryutaro Umeno bases-loaded walk to push yet another run over the plate. But Hanshin would not let itself run away with this one. The defense blew up in the bottom of the frame. First, a bad throw to first by Hojoh. Then, three straight hits (scoring two runs). Messenger’s night ended here, but he was still in line to get the win. Kentaro Kuwahara entered in relief and an out later, another error – this one by Haraguchi – brought in a run. The momentum was slowly moving to the other side of the field. Hanshin 8, Hiroshima 4.
Seventh Inning: Hanshin got a couple of men on board (Takayama on second, Fukudome on first) but with two outs, Haraguchi’s single was not nearly deep enough to score Takayama, who was thrown out at home. In the bottom half, with Kuwahara still on the mound, ex-Tiger Takahiro Arai hit a long ball over the left field wall. Hanshin 8, Hiroshima 5.
Eighth Inning: Marcos Mateo entered the game in relief, walking a batter and then after a couple of outs, he did the team in. A single was followed by his own error: a bobbled grounder and a poor throw to first. This was beginning to look like last year’s Tigers: gifting Hiroshima yet another come-from-behind win. But Mateo held on and kept the damage to a minimum. Hanshin 8, Hiroshima 6.
Ninth Inning: Yamato (?) entered the game as a pinch-hitter (??) and batted from the left side of the plate (???). He slapped a single through the left side of the infield! Two batters later, Fukudome took their pitcher deep over the right field wall, giving Hanshin some much needed insurance and putting an end to the Carp momentum. Rafael Dolis entered the game to shut things down, and despite giving up a leadoff double to Seiya Suzuki, he closed the door on a comeback by getting three straight after that.
FINAL SCORE: HANSHIN 10, Hiroshima 6
Yep, we’re ahead of Hiroshima in the standings. Enjoy it while you can! (Let’s hope we can add to the lead tomorrow!)