@ Carp – March 31-April 2 – Defensively “Challenged”

The new team slogan for this year is 挑む Tigers Change. 挑む (Idomu) can be translated as “challenge” or “defy” or “dare to try”. After the opening series in Hiroshima, all the Hanshin Tigers seem ready to challenge is the record for most errors in a season. What has changed? The defense has certainly not changed for the better, it would seem.

Game 1 – Friday 3/31. Big Opening Day Win vs. Sawamura Winner

Starting pitchers: Randy Messenger (0-0) vs. Kris Johnson (0-0)

Most of the details of this game have already been captured in this write-up. A quick re-cap for those who don’t like clicking on links or reading long summaries. Hanshin broke out in the first and third innings, knocking Johnson out of the game way earlier than anyone could have expected. While the defense allowed Hiroshima to creep back into this one, a late home run put the game out of the defending Central League champions’ reach.

Final Score: Hanshin 10, Hiroshima 6. WP: Messenger (1-0) Team Record: 1-0-0

Game 2 – Saturday 4/1. Walk-a-Thon Ends in Walk-Off Loss

Starting pitchers: Yuta Iwasada (0-0) vs. Akitake Okada (0-0)

Once again, Hanshin struck early in this one. Shun Takayama walked, Hiroki Uemoto advanced him to third, and Yoshio Itoi brought him home on a sacrifice fly. But the fun was just beginning. Back-to-back hits (Kosuke Fukudome on a blooper and Fumihito Haraguchi just out of the center fielder’s reach) scored Uemoto, and Ryutaro Umeno took advantage of a bases loaded situation to bring two more in. Unfortunately, Iwasada struggled in the bottom half of the frame,  allowing a hit, walking one, and then a home run to Maru. The gap was back to one. But Hanshin struck back in the top of the second, with three straight walks (get used to hearing that word), and two runs scored on non-hits (Fukudome groundout on a great defensive play by Kikuchi, Haraguchi sacrifice fly). Unfortunately, Iwasada did not do any better at holding this lead than he did the first. He walked the first guy in the fifth, then gave up another blast, this time to Suzuki. His day would end after this inning, and while he was in line to be the winning pitcher, he certainly did not deserve it. Still, Hanshin extended its lead yet again in the top of the sixth, with Fukudome and Haraguchi walks (See? Don’t worry, it’s coming again) and a Nakatani check-swing single loading the bases for Umeno. He knocked two runs in with a grounder to short that was thrown away. (He got credit for a hit and RBI but a second run scored on the poor throw.) But Hiroshima got those runs back in the bottom half, off of reliever Ryoma Matsuda. The next inning, Kyuji Fujikawa added some more walks to the mix, pushing the tying run across the plate with a bases loaded full count walk. Two maddening innings by Marcos Mateo followed, and despite two straight errors (Takayama and the pitcher himself), he held the Carp to no score. For the record, he walked 4 guys in his two innings. Hanshin wasn’t without its chances, but the runners in scoring position in the 8th and 10th remained stranded. Rafael Dolis entered the game in the bottom of the tenth. It had already gone on for 5 hours and 15 minutes by this point. A one-out hit was followed by a stray pick-off throw, which was then parlayed into a golden chance as rookie Kento Itohara threw away a grounder, putting runners on second and third with one out. The next batter put everyone out of their misery. In total, this game had 27 combined walks (plus a hit batsman – Itohara in his first ever at bat, on the first pitch he saw). The Japanese pro baseball record was 26 in a 9-inning game. These clubs tied the record after regulation, but the extra innings walk does not count in the record books. We’ll have to settle for an ugly, long, boring, frustrating, 4-error, record-tying, 10th inning walk-off loss.

Final Score: Hiroshima 9x, Hanshin 8. LP: Dolis (0-1). Team Record: 1-1-0

Game 3 – Sunday 4/2. The Day Nothing Went Right

Starting Pitchers: Atsushi Nohmi (0-0), Aren Kuri (0-0)

To save you all the agony of reading about HOW we got blown out, I will summarize it like this. Nohmi could not get Tanaka or Maru out to save his life. He got eaten up by Arai again (continuing from last year). He left the game in the 4th inning. (Haraguchi’s fielding error in the 4th was mercifully deemed a hit, and Takayama’s fumbling of the ball in left will not be found in the record books, either. The defense did Nohmi in as much as his bad pitching did.) Our lone run came on an Itoi solo shot in the third. (He got plunked in his next at bat, presumably injuring his elbow and leaving the game in the sixth.) There were plenty of chances in the other innings, but 4 double plays and poor hitting with the bases loaded meant no fighting back against the Carp. Suguru Iwazaki entered in the seventh and put the game out of reach. Five runs later (a Fukudome error made it worse than it should have been) and this one was a complete write-off.

Final Score: Hiroshima 9, Hanshin 1. LP: Nohmi (0-1). Team Record: 1-2-0

Number of the series: 8. As in, the number of errors Hanshin committed in this series. There were also several poor plays on the field that did not make it into the box scores. If Hanshin wants to have any hope of having a decent season, the fielding must improve vastly. The culprits were Mateo with two (one in each of the first two games), Haraguchi, Hojoh, Dolis, Itohara, Takayama and Fukudome each with one. Who’d have thought Takashi Toritani would be our most solid defender so far?

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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.