Hanshin’s momentum heading back home was at an all-time low. A frustrating loss on Saturday was followed by an embarrassing one on Sunday, and the team needed to win quickly and often if they were to keep their fan base excited for the season to come. This series was not without its moments. Fortunately, many of them were moments brought back the Tigers’ respectability and restored the fans’ faith in the team.
Game 4 – Tuesday 4/4. Rumble in Namba
Starting Pitchers: Shintaro Fujinami (0-0) vs. David Buchanan (0-0)
“I want to throw at least 7-8 innings.” “My challenge this year is to throw 200 innings.” Guess who said it? The same man who walked 3 guys in the first (he was bailed out by a double play but got burnt later on an RBI single to left), 2 more in the second, another in the third (after giving up a leadoff monster home run to Wladmir Balentien), and two more in the fourth. His pitch count at this point was 101, and he had 8 walks to 0 strikeouts. Miraculously, he walked no one in the fifth. What he did do, and the
ripple tsunami effect it caused, will be talked about for weeks. With a runner on first and no outs, he threw a 2-0 cutter that nearly hit batter Kazuhiro Hatakeyama flush in the face. (It appeared to but the slow motion replay shows it glanced off his shoulder and helmet first.) The ensuing brawl (details here) resulted in ejections for Coach Yano and Balentien. Fujinami calmly finished the inning (ground-out, double play) and was done for the night. A funny thing happened next. Ryoma Matsuda struck out three straight guys. Then another the next inning. Then Kyuji Fujikawa struck out the side in the eighth. Unfortunately, Hanshin’s lone fight back came courtesy of a Yoshio Itoi solo home run in the bottom of the sixth. Tack on another run for Yakult in the top of the ninth, and you have a pathetic loss on your hands. (I was at the game and predicted a 4-3 walkoff win for Hanshin, and Shun Takayama as the hero. If Keisuke Kanoh could have gotten on base at game’s end, Takayama was the next guy up and with a legit chance to make me Nostradamus-san.)
Final Score: Yakult 3, Hanshin 1. LP: Fujinami (0-1). Team Record: 1-3-0
Game 5 – Wednesday 4/5. Superman Strikes Again!
Starting Pitchers: Takumi Akiyama (0-0) vs. Hirofumi Yamanaka (0-0)
Last year, Hanshin could not for the life of them figure Yamanaka out. This one started with a hope that 2017 would be different. Two straight singles was followed by a walk to Itoi. Then, for the second time this year, Kosuke Fukudome grounded into a double play to score a run. But that would be it for Hanshin against the submarine-throwing righty. Yakult evened the score in the top of the 4th, but aside from those two hits and a bad start to the seventh (hit, walk), Akiyama stifled the powerful Swallows bats. He was replaced by Kentaro Kuwahara, who got out of the jam. Then in the bottom of the inning, Itoi struck again. With two outs and runners on first and second, he took therapist (insert space where Sean Connery did) Josh Lueke deep deep deep to right, breaking a 1-1 tie. Hanshin’s Dominican duo clamped down in the final two innings, and the team’s 3-game losing streak was over.
Final Score: Hanshin 4, Yakult 1. WP: Kuwahara (1-0). SV: Rafael Dolis (1). Team Record: 2-3-0
Game 6 – Thursday 4/6. Just Enough to Win
Starting Pitchers: Randy Messenger (1-0) vs. Shohei Tateyama (0-0)
It didn’t take long for Hanshin to take control of this one. Takayama and Hiroki Uemoto set the table for Itoi with singles, and he punched one through the right side of the infield for the first run of the game. Fukudome walked to load the bases, then Fumihito Haraguchi and Takashi Toritani had back-to-back RBI singles, and Ryutaro Umeno grounded out to short to bring a fourth run across the plate. All this in the game’s first inning. Yakult clawed back, though, with a fairly steady stream of hits and walks throughout Messenger’s time on the mound. They got one back in the top of the second, and despite threats in nearly every inning, they did not strike again until the sixth. Partway through the inning, Messenger got chased – his pitch count was fairly high and after a runner crossed home plate with just one out, he was pulled. Kuwahara entered the game with two outs and gave up a 2-run Yamada RBI double. None of Yakult’s hits in the inning were impressive, but it got the job done. The score remained knotted through nine, and for the second time this season, Hanshin was heading for extra innings. It wasn’t until the bottom of the eleventh inning that the game was decided. With no one out and the bases empty, Haraguchi took the 4th pitch he saw deep to left. He stood and watched as it slowly but surely made its way into the crowd. Only then did he shout in excitement and round the bases. Highlights of the game here.
Final Score: Hanshin 5x, Yakult 4. WP: Fujikawa (1-0). Team Record: 3-3-0