@ Dragons – April 18-20 – Nagoya Dome Curse Continues

Last season, Hanshin won just 5 of 13 matches in Nagoya against the dismal Chunichi Dragons. But the hard times at the dome go back further than one season. In the 20 years of the Dome’s existence, Hanshin has put up a pitiful 82-153-5 record there. So there’s no doubt that expecting a sweep, no matter how bad the Dragons are, no matter how hot the Tigers are, is a pretty tall order. Expecting a series win is more realistic. But losing the series is the norm. And the norm was what we got in this set.

Game 14 – Tuesday 4/18. Iwasada Better, Not Best

Starting Pitchers: Yuta Iwasada (0-1) vs. Raul Valdes (0-0)

Iwasada had given up 3 runs in the first inning of each of his first two starts. He didn’t quite do that badly in this first frame, but was aided with the third out by a diving Masahiro Nakatani, who started in right field. The very next inning, Nakatani blasted one off the left field wall but was left stranded at second. Both pitchers cruised through the rest of the game’s first half. It wasn’t until the fifth inning when Iwasada blooped one over third base, advanced on Hiroki Uemoto‘s single, and scored on Yoshio Itoi‘s Texas Leaguer to shallow right. Unfortunately, Chunichi got it right back in the bottom half. Rookie Yota Kyoda flared a double to left and scored on a sacrifice bunt coupled with an Iwasada error. Both pitchers hung in through the seventh inning, but in the top of the eighth, Chunichi went to their bullpen. Old man Iwase nearly served up a 3-run home run to Nakatani, but was lucky the ball curled foul. Two pitches later, Nakatani drove a ball deep enough to right to bring home the go-ahead run (Itoi) from third. Two batters later, Fumiya Hojoh tripled to the right center gap, scoring Takashi Toritani from first. Marcos Mateo entered in relief to whiff Alex Guerrero, and Rafael Dolis pitched a perfect ninth to preserve the win.

Final Score: Hanshin 3, Chunichi 1. WP: Iwasada (1-1). SV: Dolis (7). Team Record: 9-5-0

Game 15 – Wednesday 4/19. Seesaw Game Ends on E5

Starting Pitchers: Takumi Akiyama (1-0) vs. Norberto Jordan (0-0)

This one started pretty roughly for Akiyama. His throws were erratic, and he was lucky to escape with just a one run deficit. Both pitchers settled down after that, putting men on base but never caving in. Until the top of the fifth, that is. With two outs and the bases loaded, Uemoto sprayed a hit to the opposite side for two runs. Unfortunately, Akiyama gave the run back in the sixth, as with runners on the corners and no outs, a 4-6-3 double play pushed the tying run across the plate. The tie only lasted until the top of the eighth. Kosuke Fukudome‘s leadoff double eventually led to his scoring on a Hojoh ground ball. But yet again, the Dragons fought back in the bottom of the inning. With two outs and a runner on second, Yohei Ohshima slapped a fat Mateo pitch (word order OK? Heheh) to left for his fourth hit of the game and another tie score. After Hanshin made nothing out of the top of the ninth, Chunichi put some pressure on in the bottom half. Ryoma Matsuda left with runners on second and third and just one out. Despite a solid effort by Akifumi Takahashi to escape the jam created for him, a Toritani bobble on a grounder (which should have ended the inning safely) was just enough for the runner to reach first base before the throw. Walk. Off. Loss. (And this on the day that Toritani surpassed skipper Tomoaki Kanemoto for second longest ironman streak in NPB history with 1767 games. Until this point, Tori was 2-2 with 2 walks and a stolen base. But the error will forever ruin his milestone game.)

Final Score: Chunichi 4, Hanshin 3. LP: Matsuda (0-1). Team Record: 9-6-0

Game 16 – Thursday 4/20. Bad Veterans, Bad Defense, Bad Relief Work, Bad Series

Starting Pitchers: Koyo Aoyagi (0-1) vs. Yudai Ohno (0-2)

Aoyagi looked great out of the gates. He mowed down the first six batters he faced before running into a little jam in the third. But he escaped it. Hanshin had troubles answering the bell but got on the board first in the fifth inning on a Fumihito Haraguchi single. Cruising through six, suddenly Aoyagi got taken deep in the seventh to even the score. A couple of batters reached base thereafter, and the Goat’s night was over. Kentaro Kuwahara proceeded to allow both runners to score (though both were partly due to poor defense by Uemoto). Hanshin got one run back in the top of the eighth, as pinch hitter Shun Takayama hit a double to left center. Unfortunately, Takahashi put a man on base, left, and Mateo gave up an opposite field homer to Dayan Viciedo (our kryptonite last year). Game, set, match. For the record, Fukudome still has no home runs at Nagoya Dome in over 4 seasons with the Tigers. He had 3 chances with runners in scoring position tonight, and produced 4 outs out of them. For the second time in three nights, Toritani grounded into a force out at home with a runner on third and one out. Had our veterans come through, this could have been a very different game.

Final Score: Chunichi 5, Hanshin 2. LP: Aoyagi (0-2). Team Record: 9-7-0

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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.