Golden Week ended up being quite the golden week for Hanshin. With a stadium full of kids cheering them on, and a scoreboard with every name written in hiragana (syllabic Japanese, much easier for children to read than kanji), the players put on performances that gave every kid in attendance hopes and dreams for their own futures as baseball players.
Game 28 – Friday 5/5. Hanshin Draws First Buraddo
Starting Pitchers: Randy Messenger (4-0) vs. Takuya Katoh (1-2)
Top 2: Everything went perfectly for Randy for the game’s first 5 batters. Then along came Big Bad Brad. Eldred, that is. He smoked a 1-1 offering into the left field stands. Hanshin 0, Hiroshima 1.
Top 4: The same could be said of the ensuing couple of innings. A two-out triple to left center cashed in one run, and the cheering for Buraddo (Blood? Nope, Brad) crescendoed as he hit yet another long ball, this one to right center. Hanshin 0, Hiroshima 4.
Bottom 4: This one was partially gifted to Hanshin. Katoh, who is rather Aoyagi-esque in his control, walked two straight batters with two outs. Ryutaro Umeno cashed one of them in with a single to shallow right. Hanshin 1, Hiroshima 4.
Bottom 6: Repeat scenario here, but with a different man on the bump. Again with two outs, Hanshin took two free passes, and using a wild pitch to advance into scoring position, then scored two runs on back-to-back RBI singles by Fumiya Hojoh (line drive) and Yoshio Itoi (Texas Leaguer). Hanshin 3, Hiroshima 4.
Bottom 7: Cue the comeback music. We’re Rocky and they’re Ivan Drago. Masahiro Nakatani leadoff double. Takashi Toritani walk. Umeno triple to score 2. Fumihito Haraguchi blooper to score another. Hojoh walk. Itoi RBI single. Kosuke Fukudome RBI double. The big villain is reeling… Hanshin 8, Hiroshima 4.
Top 8: But our defense lets its guard down, and a Kento Itohara error gives them new life and another run off the bat of Blood Eldred. Hanshin 8, Hiroshima 5.
Top 9: Rafael Dolis makes things interesting. Two quick outs are followed by a strikeout… which happened to be on a wild pitch. Runner, take your base. Next runner, walk your way on. And so, last year’s superhero, Seiya Suzuki has a chance to tie the game with one swing of his bat. Swiiiiinnnnnnnganamiss. Not this year, Seiya. You’re 神ってない so far in 2017.
Final Score: Hanshin 8, Hiroshima 5. WP: Suguru Iwazaki (1-0). SV: Dolis (11). Team Record: 17-11-0
Game 29 – Saturday 5/6. Biggest Miracle in Club History
Starting Pitchers: Shungo Fukunaga (0-0) vs. Akitake Okada (3-1)
You had to wonder what Tomoaki Kanemoto and the coaching staff was thinking by giving this 6th round draft pick his debut game against the best hitting lineup in the Central, perhaps in all of Japan. He sure made a mess early on.
Top 1: Hit, RBI, walk, wild pitch, sac fly, hit. Somehow, that was “all” they got. Well, there was a clumsy run-down between home and third and second and third and home to help the rookie get out of the inning. Oh, and another walk. Hiroshima 2, Hanshin 0.
Top 2: After getting the first two outs, Fukunaga gave up back-to-back hits, including a 2-run home run to Maru. Hiroshima 4, Hanshin 0.
Top 4: Yes, Fukunaga got ONE clean inning. (But not without giving up 3 more hits.) And then, back to disaster. Hit, stolen base, error (welcome to Hanshin, kid), RBI double, another clumsy rundown out, and then a wicked come-backer that blew the glove off Fukunaga (and another run scored). Hiroshima 6, Hanshin 0.
Top 5: SOS! Need competent relief! In comes Ryoma Matsuda. Umm, I said competent! Hit, bunt, hit, RBI hit, error (scores another run), RBI hit. Hiroshima 9, Hanshin 0.
Aside: Now, I was at the game, and started cheering for Hiroshima sometime in the fifth inning. It was a joke of a game. Hanshin had but ONE hit up to this point. The Hiroshima fans in front of us and behind us (we were on the 3B side) also started cheering for Hanshin when we started…
Bottom 5: Toritani walk. Okada balk. Eventually, with Tori on third, Umeno willed his ground ball through the infield, and at long last, Hanshin was on the board. Hiroshima 9, Hanshin 1.
Bottom 6: Buckle up. Strap yourself in. It’s going to start getting wildly interesting here. Shun Takayama opened the inning with a walk, which was followed by a Hojoh double down the left field line. Itoi bounced one to second, getting the team’s first out but also its first run of the inning. Eric Campbell made his lone appearance of the series here, striking out swinging. But Nakatani took one for the team, which was followed by a somewhat lucky Toritani RBI infield single. Then a walk for Itohara to load the bases. Then a wild pitch, scoring a run. Another walk stuffed the bases again. Haraguchi pushed a runner home with a walk of his own. And then, the most important hit of the inning: a Takayama bases-clearing triple. Just three hits in the inning, but plenty of walks, and a whole lot of runs. Hiroshima 9, Hanshin 8.
Bottom 7: Taiga Egoshi got a pinch hit single (his first hit of the year) with one out, and Nakatani followed that up with a hit of his own. Toritani took advantage of an error by their second baseman (no, not Kikuchi – he didn’t play a single inning in this series). On the play, as the ball rolled behind the second baseman, Egoshi took off for home. Their shortstop alertly picked up the ball and threw a dart to the catcher. Headfirst slide.
Safe. Tie game. Video review… 20 minute delay… and a reversal on the original call. So with two outs and runners on first and second, Itohara gets a clean hit, and Nakatani dashes for home, and it’s another close play. Safe. Tie game. No video review. Up next: the hero of the last two games, Umeno. He proceeds to hit one to the right-center gap, easily bringing both men home. Witnessing a miracle. Hanshin 11, Hiroshima 9.
Bottom 8: Not happy with their slender lead, Hanshin presses for more. Takayama legs out an infield single, steals second, and advances a base on each of the next two ground outs.
Top 9: Dolis plays with a bit of fire, letting the leadoff guy on and seeing him advance to third base. That same guy shot himself in the foot by trying for home on a wild pitch, but Umeno and Dolis combined to nullify everything he had done to advance the first 270 feet. A strikeout in the dirt ended the incredible come-from-behind victory – the first time in the club’s 82-year history it overcame such a huge deficit. Euphoria ensued.
Final Score: Hanshin 12, Hiroshima 9. WP: Takahashi (1-0). SV: Dolis (12). Team Record: 18-11-0
Game 30 – Sunday 5/7. Make That 18 Unanswered Runs
Starting Pitchers: Atsushi Nohmi (0-2) vs. Aren Kuri (2-2)
With Nohmi still looking for his first win on the year, Hanshin had to dig deep to avoid that hungover feeling from Saturday’s history-maker (and they were probably stuffed after devouring so much carp, too!)
Top 1: Nohmi struggled early in this one but escaped the first inning with two straight K’s as the three Hiroshima base runners stood helplessly by.
Bottom 4: Hojoh watched six pitches go by (4 bad ones) to take first base. Itoi hit one over the second baseman into right, and then Fukudome advanced them both into scoring position with a grounder. Toritani cashed them both in with a line drive to right. Hanshin 2, Hiroshima 0.
Bottom 6: This time, Hojoh started with a hit and Itoi followed it with a walk. Fukudome blasted a double to right, scoring one, and Toritani brought the remaining base runners home with a hit up the middle. Hanshin 5, Hiroshima 0.
Bottom 8: Just for fun, Toritani added another RBI, this one in the form of a sacrifice fly, easily bringing an insurance run across home plate. The sweep was completed in convincing fashion.
Final Score: Hanshin 6, Hiroshima 0. WP: Nohmi (1-2). Team Record: 19-11-0