It certainly is unusual to see the Tigers playing this well. Especially in light of the fact that heading into this set, Hanshin had winning records against every CL team except these Chunichi Dragons. Would playing at home change the team’s fortunes? (After all, Hanshin took two of three last time at Koshien!)
Game 35 – Tuesday 5/16. Three Big Hits + Complete Game = Huge Win
Starting Pitchers: Takumi Akiyama (2-2) vs. Shota Suzuki (1-1)
Bottom 1: A one-out walk to Yamato was followed by Viciedo bobbling a routine grounder to first. After a double-steal and a strikeout, Masahiro Nakatani clobbered one just foul, and then uncorked one that landed a dozen rows deep into the left field stands. Hanshin 3, Chunichi 0
Top 5: With two outs via the K, Akiyama was cruising and looked good to get out of the inning with some weak contact to shallow center field. The ball looked catchable to me, but went down as a double in the record books. The next batter hit a broken bat single, and the runner scored from second. Hanshin 3, Chunichi 1
Bottom 5: Yamato walked and then pulled a Matrix move to avoid the tag at second on a stolen base attempt, but was called out anyways. The Dragons pitchers righted the umps’ wrong, though, dealing our hitters three straight walks to stuff the bases. Rookie second baseman Kento Itohara hung tough and found a pitch that he liked, driving it into the left field corner and clearing the bases. Hanshin 6, Chunichi 1
Bottom 6: “Wouldn’t it be cool to see a home run here by Yoshio Itoi?” I said to the person next to me in the stands. Five pitches into his at bat, my words reached Yoppi’s ears. He bashed a liner into the right field stands to put the crowd into a frenzy. Hanshin 8, Chunichi 1
Top 9: Now all that’s left to get excited about is seeing Akiyama complete his masterpiece of a game. The first hitter was Viciedo. CRACK! Nakatani is going back back back back back… CAUGHT AT THE WALL! One out! Next hitter spanks one up the middle. “No problem. We’ll just have to get a double play here,” I said to the person next to me. Next hitter is Alex Guerrero. CRACK! Shun Takayama is going back back back back back… CAUGHT AT THE WALL! He throws to Yamato who sends the ball Fed-Ex to first, AND BEATS THE RUNNER! Game ending double play! Akiyama’s final line: 9 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 HBP, 12 K.
Final Score: Hanshin 8, Chunichi 1. WP: Akiyama (3-2). Team Record: 23-12-0
Game 36 – Wednesday 5/17. Only Hit When It Matters
Starting Pitchers: Atsushi Nohmi (1-2) vs. Raul Valdes (1-1)
Both long-toothed southpaws were dealing early on. In fact, this one was already in the seventh inning after just 70 minutes of play! Only one toothpick graced the scoreboard through six innings…
Bottom 5: After two quick outs to his mates ahead of him, Fumihito Haraguchi stepped up and clubbed a 3-1 offering into the left field stands. Hanshin 1, Chunichi 0
Top 7: Nohmi gets into trouble. An über high chopper granted their guy first base via the infield hit. The next guy hit one cleanly to right. That was followed by a wild pitch, putting them in scoring position with no outs. Nohmi courageously painted the inside corner on Viciedo to get the first out of the inning, but the next batter hit one to shallow center, knotting this one at 1 and knocking Nohmi (6 1/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 3 K) out earlier than he hoped. Kentaro Kuwahara ended the threat with some clutch pitching. Hanshin 1, Chunichi 1
Top 8: This one looked like it could tilt in the Dragons’ favor, but Marcos Mateo put the fire out, inducing a weak grounder out of Viciedo.
Bottom 8: Haraguchi led off with a quick walk, and two batters later, Takayama jumped on the first pitch Valdes threw him. It sailed over the center fielder’s head and was good enough to score the go-ahead run. Hanshin 2, Chunichi 1
Top 9: Rafael Dolis had the luxury of two straight days off! He sure looked sharp, but… a soft single was followed by two weak infield hits (one out, one safe), and everyone squeezed their balloons a little tighter. But hey, it’s the Dragons. They love gifting other teams all sorts of slack. A very poor attempt at a bunt was easily caught in midair for out number two. And hey, it’s Dolis. He fanned the final batter, and a whole lotta rubber filled the sky.
Final Score: Hanshin 2, Chunichi 1. WP: Mateo (4-0). SV: Dolis (16). Team Record: 24-12-0
Game 37 – Thursday 5/18. Pitchers’ Duel II Ends in Loss
Starting Pitchers: Randy Messenger (5-0) vs. Jordan Norberto (2-0)
Bottom 1: Singles by Yamato and Haraguchi set up a nice situation for Nakatani, who doubled a fastball down the right field line to score the game’s first run. Hanshin 1, Chunichi 0
Top 5: Randy was on his game in this one. But a leadoff double followed by a sacrifice bunt put him in a tough situation. The ensuing batter pounded one into the ground, and the ball bounced high enough to buy the runner time to score from third. Hanshin 1, Chunichi 1
Top 8: Back-to-back doubles (by Araki and Hirata) pushed the go-ahead run across home, and despite getting into deeper trouble in this inning, Randy limited the damage to just the one run. So his night ended with the following line: 8 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 12 K. Hanshin 1, Chunichi 2
Bottom 8: A decent chance presented itself as two guys took the free pass to first that Jordan gave them, but Hanshin was unable to convert.
Bottom 9: Again, a free pass to Itohara on four straight pitches put the tying run on board, but the Tigers’ magic had run out by this point. The winning streak ends at 4.
Final Score: Chunichi 2, Hanshin 1. LP: Messenger (5-1). Team Record: 24-13-0