@ Giants – April 21-23 – Winning by the Skin of Our Teeth

The good news: facing Yomiuri on the weekend has meant being able to avoid ace Sugano 2 series in a row. The bad news: it would mean facing other pitchers that the Tigers generally fare poorly against: Mikolas and Taguchi. The question is, would we be able to figure out one of our hardest pitchers to face over the past two seasons (1.50 ERA in 2015, 1.29 ERA in 2016 against Tigers), and then two lefties (we went 1-2 against lefties earlier in the week)?

Game 17 – Friday 4/21. Our American Ace is Better Than Yours!

Starting Pitchers: Randy Messenger (2-0) vs. Miles Mikolas (2-0)

Hanshin wasted no time getting on board in this one. Shun Takayama and Yoshio Itoi set the table for Kosuke Fukudome, who lofted a curveball into the right field stands. Messenger had the Giants looking like fools at the plate, but gave up a run in the bottom of the third when a Takashi Toritani error set up a bases-loaded, one-out situation for pig big Abe. He drove a ball deep to center for a sacrifice fly. But that was it for the Giants. Only one well-hit ball after that, also by Abe, but despite hitting a liner off the right field wall in the sixth, it only ended up being a single. Before that hit, Hanshin had already added an insurance run courtesy of a Mikolas bases loaded walk to Fumiya Hojoh. Furious at the umps, he let out a series of expletives before managing to get out of the inning without any further damage. The only drama left was seeing if Fukudome could complete the cycle. Needing just a triple in his final at bat, he went deep to center but the fielder easily caught it. But the man of this match was Messenger, whose final line was 8 innings, 5 hits, 1 (unearned) run, 1 walk and 10 strikeouts. Rafael Dolis preserved the win easily in the ninth, taking the lead in the Central League saves race.

Final Score: Hanshin 4, Yomiuri 1. WP: Messenger (3-0). SV: Dolis (8). Team Record: 10-7-0

Game 18 – Saturday 4/22. Complete Reverse of Day Before…

Starting Pitchers: Atsushi Nohmi (0-1) vs. Kazuto Taguchi (1-0)

Once again Hanshin was facing a pitcher who has shown them no love, but once again the visitors opened the scoring in the top of the first. Yes, once again Fukudome did the damage, driving a ball into shallow right and scoring Hiroki Uemoto. But that was really all the fireworks for the Tigers, who managed just two hits the rest of the way. For his part, Nohmi wrestled with his control early on (much like last Sunday against the Carp). It finally caught up to him in the third inning, when his own error put their leadoff hitter (Taguchi) on base. Ultimately two runs scored on a Sakamoto single that looked more like a golf swing than a baseball one. A few innings later, Kyuji Fujikawa let another run score (walk, hit, hit), and the next inning, Ryoma Matsuda served up a leadoff tater to McGehee. Definitely not an exciting or entertaining game for Hanshin fans.

Final Score: Yomiuri 4, Hanshin 1. LP: Nohmi (0-2). Team Record: 10-8-0

Game 19 – Sunday 4/23. Captain Clutch!

Starting Pitchers: Yuya Yokoyama (0-0) vs. Tetsuya Utsumi (1-1)

For the third straight game, Fukudome collected an RBI in the opening frame. This time, though, it was starting left-fielder Masahiro Nakatani who trotted home. His leadoff double set the table nicely. Two innings later, Nakatani and Uemoto got back-to-back hits, and the former scored on another Fukudome RBI – this one a sacrifice fly to center field. Making his 2017 debut, Yokoyama did not pitch his best, but got out of almost every jam he created. Except in the third inning. After two quick outs, he put two guys on base via the free pass, and for the second straight game, a soft seeing-eye single scored runs for the Giants. It looked like they might score more runs, but Yokoyama got out of the jam with his third of four reverse K’s on the day. He was unable to get a single perfect inning, and was pulled after five innings with a skinny one-run lead. Kentaro Kuwahara came in to relieve him, and pitched 1 2/3 innings of shutout ball, though the sixth inning was not without a threatening situation. With runners on first and third, he dialed up the pig big Abe for a K to be able to trot off the mound triumphantly. He also put two runners on in the seventh, and needed Marcos Mateo to strike out McGehee to get out of the inning. The lone clean innings for the Tigers were the last two: Mateo struck out two more in the eighth, and Dolis (1K) once again preserved the win. Looks like we’ve found our closer. And so, the Tigers take two of three under the Dome to crawl back into a tie for second place.

Final Score: Hanshin 2, Yomiuri 1. WP: Yokoyama (1-0). SV: Dolis (9)  Team Record: 11-8-0

Season Series: Hanshin 3, Yomiuri 2

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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.