The last time Hanshin won a 3-game series against the red helmets was almost a year ago. Since then, nothing but misery. Errors, defense, pitching, hitting, everything cost us at least a game or two. And despite winning the season opener against the Carp, not only did we drop the next two (one in which we squandered 4-0 and 8-5 leads), but no one else had beaten them since then, either. Someone had to slow down the speedy locomotive out of Hiroshima. Could our boys do it?
Game 11 – Friday 4/14. Randy 2, Hiroshima 0.
Starting Pitchers: Randy Messenger (1-0) vs. Takuya Katoh (1-0)
Messenger’s first inning was relatively clean, though his pitch count got rather high. In fact, it took until the fifth inning for him to knock the Carp down in order. Fortunately, the Carp rookie pitcher (who nearly threw a no-hitter in his pro debut) was out of control from the get-go. Hanshin did not record a hit until the bottom of the third, but when they got on base, made sure to bring a few guys home. For the second straight game, Fumihito Haraguchi got the first RBI, this time with a bases loaded walk. With the bases still juiced, Takashi Toritani slashed one down the right field line to score a couple more. Hiroshima responded in the top of the next inning, when (who else?) Takahiro Arai hit one up the middle to score the runner from second. Randy clamped down after that, keeping the speedy Carp off the base paths. Marcos Mateo took over in the eighth, and gave up a run on a couple of hits. But in the bottom of the eighth, Shun Takayama cashed in Ryutaro Umeno with a liner to shallow right. It would come down to the top of the ninth and Rafael Dolis. Unfortunately he gave up a hit and a walk with one out. A double steal later and this had potential to turn into a disastrous ninth inning loss. But Dolis, playing in his third straight game (and 8th of the 11 games the team has played so far), dug deep to find enough strength to dial up two straight K’s (to Suzuki and Matsuyama) to get out of trouble. The Carp’s 11-game undefeated streak was over! Game Note: Rookie Kento Itohara got his first career start, replacing struggling shortstop Fumiya Hojoh. He went 0-for-3 with a walk.
Final Score: Hanshin 4, Hiroshima 2. WP: Messenger (2-0). SV: Dolis (5) Team Record: 7-4-0
Game 12 – Saturday 4/15. Self-Destructing Goat
Starting Pitchers: Koyo Aoyagi (0-0) vs. Akitake Okada (1-0)
One pitch was all it took to set the tone in this one. Aoyagi gave up a single, then on the ensuing sacrifice bunt attempt, Umeno was late in throwing out the runner at second. A walk later, the “Blue Goat” (Aoyagi) failed to field a soft grounder, and the first run of the game came in. Two batters later, the Goat found another way to hurt himself: beaning their batter with the bases loaded. Hiroshima got its first legitimate runs of the inning with a soft single up the middle. Two innings later, the Goat lived up to his (HTEN-given) nickname by fielding a soft grounder and throwing it two feet over Haraguchi’s head. Another run scored. That extended the inning long enough for Hiroshima to score one more. It would have been worse were it not for Kosuke Fukudome‘s diving catch into foul territory. Reliever Suguru Iwazaki looked like he would follow in Aoyagi’s footsteps, giving up a leadoff single to start the fourth inning. That runner eventually came around to score, opening the wound to the tune of an 0-7 deficit. Meanwhile, the Tigers sticks were silent through four innings. But Fukudome led off the bottom of the fifth with a single, and Itohara recorded his first career RBI with a double, two batters later. That is all. Okada went the distance, and looked far better on the mound at Koshien than he did back on April 1st at the Zoom Zoom.
Final Score: Hiroshima 7, Hanshin 1. LP: Aoyagi (0-1). Team Record: 7-5-0
Game 13 – Sunday 4/16: Toughing One Out
Starting Pitchers: Atsushi Nohmi (0-1) vs. Aren Kuri (2-0)
This one had all the makings of Saturday’s blowout. Nohmi gave up a leadoff hit, then another, and after a one-out walk, the bases were juiced for Seiya “Kamitteru” Suzuki. He stroked a deep ball to left – deep enough to score the runner from third, anyways. Another walk re-loaded the bases, but Nohmi pulled a Houdini and got out without any further damage. The Carp got another runner into scoring position in the next inning, and runners on second and third base in the third inning. Somehow, they all failed to put insurance runs on the board. On the other side of things, Hanshin got nothing going in the game’s first two innings, other than the two free passes issued by Kuri. In the third, they got two more passes before Takayama got the team’s first hit – a sharp grounder that ricocheted off Kuri to a vacant part of the infield. Yoshio Itoi grounded out to first, bringing a run home and evening the game at one. And despite all the pressure Hiroshima put on in the first third of the game, they managed just one base runner (on a Mateo walk) the rest of the way. Hayata Itoh, called up to take flu-ridden Shintaro Fujinami‘s place on the roster, got his first hit of the season in the bottom of the fifth, but the Tigers couldn’t make anything of it. It wasn’t until the bottom of the eighth, when a tired Kuri gave up a one-out hit to Takayama, a two-out walk to Fukudome, and the crushing blow, an RBI single to Haraguchi. That was all. Dolis once again shut the door, giving Hanshin its first series win against the Carp in nearly a year. For their part, the Carp are now 3-3 against Hanshin and 8-0-1 against the rest of the league.
Final Score: Hanshin 2, Hiroshima 1. WP: Mateo (2-0). SV: Dolis (6). Team Record: 8-5-0