Vs. Chunichi Dragons @ Koshien Stadium
Hanshin faced lefties Valdes (Tuesday), Jordan (Wednesday) and Ohno (Thursday) the last time these teams met earlier this month. With starters usually pitching the same day of the week (6 man rotation and Mondays off), one would have expected to face completely different guys this time around, But…
Game 22 – Friday 4/28. Don’t Mess with Messe
Starting Pitchers: Randy Messenger (3-0) vs. Yudai Ohno (0-1)
Nothing of consequence happened in the first three innings, as both pitchers looked good early on. But Hiroki Uemoto led off the bottom of the fourth with a double, and three batters later, Eric Campbell drove in the game’s first run with a double to right. This was followed by a Fumiya Hojoh sacrifice fly to tack on a second run. The very next inning, Masahiro Nakatani blasted one into the left field stands, making the score 3-0. Messenger cruised for the most part, but expended a lot of pitches to get through his 7 shutout innings. He was also the beneficiary of some outstanding sniping by catcher Ryutaro Umeno, who gunned down two thieves in front of second base. Messenger was replaced in the bottom of the seventh, and the team patted him on the back to the tune of 3 more insurance runs. Uemoto scored Umeno on a single, and then Yoshio Itoi knocked in two more with a double. Three relievers combined for two shutout innings to give Hanshin its first string of bagels all year. Said Messenger after the game, “It was a struggle today, but I was able to get through it.” And so first blood is drawn by the claws of the Tigers.
Final Score: Hanshin 6, Chunichi 0. WP: Messenger (4-0). Team Record: 13-9-0
Game 23 – Saturday 4/29. Self-Inflicted Wounds
Starting Pitchers: Koyo Aoyagi (0-2) vs. Raul Valdes (1-0)
“The guys played great defense behind me…” (Spoken by Messenger in the previous day’s hero interview). Just when you thought the fielders were settling in… Aoyagi did himself no favors in the first inning, giving up two hits and a walk before a Hojoh error (Campbell’s tall but he’s no Manute Bol) loaded the bases with two outs. (Those two outs came on a double play, one of the few bright spots on the field on Saturday.) Chunichi got on board with a hit from the next batter, and it would have been even worse were it not for a spectacular catch by Nakatani to end the inning. Fortunately, Itoi helped even the score with a two-run home run to right, his first tater at Koshien as a member of the Tigers. However, the very next inning, Aoyagi gave up another run. This one was also a product of his erratic throwing, as two Dragons were issued first base for free. Hanshin tied it an inning later, as Hojoh blooped one into shallow left with the bases juiced. The score remained tight after that, despite a scary sixth inning on the field. Aoyagi fielded a bunt and threw it over Campbell’s head (who do they think he is, Gheorghe Mureșan?), putting two Dragons in scoring position with no one out. In came Suguru Iwazaki, though, to save the day. He struck out the first two guys he faced and coaxed a fire-extinguishing grounder out of the third. Fast forward to the eighth, when Uemoto bobbled a grounder and put reliever Marcos Mateo in a bit of a jam. He spread that jam like it was breakfast time, though, and this one moved into the ninth. Oh boy. A one-out hit was followed by a walk by closer Rafael Dolis, and it looked like trouble all over again. A grounder to shortstop looked to be an easy force out at third base, but… uh-oh! Where’s Takashi Toritani? Like a bird in a valley, he’s out of place. No play. From there, things unraveled badly, though most of the damage done was on lucky hits and more poor fielding. Let’s crumple this one up and throw it in the trash. Another loss to the Dragons prompted by poor fielding.
Final Score: Chunichi 6, Hanshin 3. LP: Dolis (0-2). Team Record: 13-10-0
Game 24 – Sunday 4/30. Painful Start, Dramatic Finish
Starting Pitchers: Atsushi Nohmi (0-2) vs. Jordan Norberto (1-0)
Nohmi started this one kind of the same way he started his game against the Carp on April 16. That is to say, he struggled mightily out of the gates. In the first inning alone, he expended over 40 pitches. He issued two walks, gave up a couple of hits, and with the bases loaded and just one out, Campbell booted a grounder, and the visitors took an early lead. Another run scored before Hanshin got their chance to hit. Hanshin was unable to solve Jordan in the first two innings, despite requiring him to throw a lot of pitches. In the third, Nohmi took first base for free, and an out later, so did Uemoto. Itoi got his second infield hit of the game, giving Kosuke Fukudome a golden chance. He took good advantage, poking one up the middle to bring home two runners and knot the game at two. Nohmi calmed down nicely in the middle innings, just as he did two weeks ago, and held Chunichi off the board the rest of his start. For the second straight game, Iwazaki came in and pitched an inning of shutout ball (though he gave up a leadoff hit). In the eighth, Kentaro Kuwahara (no runs against in ten straight games) did the same. And at long last, in the bottom half of the frame, the Tigers once again used their keen eyes to get on base. Uemoto, then Fumihito Haraguchi, then Shun Takayama. Bases loaded and two outs for Hojoh. He fell behind in the count, but then hit a sharp liner the opposite way, and the go-ahead run crossed home. Unfortunately, Umeno was unable to extend that lead in the next at bat, but Akifumi Takahashi (giving Dolis some much need rest) threw a clean ninth to preserve the win.
Final Score: Hanshin 3, Chunichi 2. WP: Kuwahara (2-0). SV: Takahashi (1). Team Record: 14-10-0