vs. Giants – May 23-25 – Batman, Americans Stop Sweep

Unlike last season, the Yomiuri Giants vs. Hanshin Tigers games this year are full of excitement and drama. The teams have been fairly evenly matched to this point, with Hanshin winning 4 of 7. But with a subpar end to last week, the Tigers were in sore need of a swing in their momentum before heading into interleague play. Unfortunately, they didn’t get it in this one. At least not over the course of the whole series.

Game 41 – Tuesday 5/23. Can’t Buy a Run

Starting Pitchers: Takumi Akiyama (3-2) vs. Tomoyuki Sugano (5-1)

This one was every bit the hurlers’ duel you would expect from these two. Last time they faced each other, Hanshin scored 4 early runs en route to a win. This time, Sugano was not so willing to give up any scores…

Top 1: Akiyama got helped out a bit by Ryutaro Umeno, who continues to throw out base stealers at a high success rate.

Bottom 3: With runners on second and third and just one out, Yoshio Itoi and Kosuke Fukudome had a great chance to open the scoring. Alas, the bagel party continued…

Top 7: Akiyama was mowing down the Giants until a two-out double landed him in a bit of trouble. Instead of going after lightweight Nakai, though, the team elected to intentionally walk him to face featherweight Kobayashi. Mistake. Double down the right field line easily scores the runner. Akiyama finishes with 7 IP, 5 H, 3 BB, 1 R, 4 K. Hanshin 0, Yomiuri 1

Bottom 7: With runners on first and second and nobody out, Sugano dug deep and struck out the top three guys in our order.

Bottom 9: Kento Itohara got on base to lead off the inning, but a failed attempt to bunt him over killed the team’s spirits, and this one ended with Hanshin failing to score all night.

Final Score: Yomiuri 1, Hanshin 0. LP: Akiyama (3-3). Team Record: 25-16-0

Game 42 – Wednesday 5/24. Paucity of Runs Continues

Starting Pitchers: Atsushi Nohmi (1-2) vs. Mitsuo Yoshikawa (0-0)

As much as Tuesday’s game was a pitchers’ duel, this one was even more of one, especially early on. Yoshikawa threw 4 perfect innings to start things, and Nohmi had a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings…

Bottom 5: Fukudome led off with a triple to the wall at the right foul pole. He would not come around to score. With one out, Takashi Toritani took a pitch off the face. He fell to the ground and did not move for what felt like forever. Eventually he got up and walked back to the dugout under his own steam (a stretcher was brought out just in case, though). Blood was gushing from his nose. Yoshikawa got tossed (NPB rules for pitches that hit batters in the head), and instead of making the Giants pay, Hanshin hitters crumbled. Picture of Tori walking off here.

Top 7: Nohmi gave up his second hit of the night, another single, but retired the next three batters. He was slated to continue into the 8th, but a pinch hitter prompted Kanemoto and crew to change pitchers. 7 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, 0 R, 6 K for the long-in-the-tooth veteran (he’ll be 38 on Sunday).

Top 8: Perhaps sticking with Nohmi, who had thrown just 99 pitches to this point, would have been wise. Kentaro Kuwahara gave up a leadoff single, and a couple of batters later, the first run of the game came home. Hanshin 0, Yomiuri 1

Top 9: And perhaps Kuwahara would have been better off staying in the game. Because Kyuji Fujikawa proceeded to bust this one a little more wide open. With two outs and runners on the corners, he gave up a triple to Chono, and the game looked all but finished. Hanshin 0, Yomiuri 3

Bottom 9: A one-out solo home run by Hiroki Uemoto gave Hanshin its first run of the series. And that was all. There were lots of near-hits, good defense by the visitors, but in the end, the lack of timely hits did Hanshin in.

Final Score: Yomiuri 3, Hanshin 1. LP: Kuwahara (3-1). Team Record: 25-17-0

Game 43 – Thursday 5/25. Soup Power + Batman + Big Mess = Big Win

Starting Pitchers: Randy Messenger (5-1) vs. Kan Ohtake (4-2)

Bottom 1: Itoi batted leadoff, and immediately snapped his 0-28 slump with a single to shallow right. It was followed by an Uemoto RBI double. Fukudome brought Uemoto home on a grounder that should have been the second out of the inning. Instead, it got booted. Two batters later, Eric Campbell, who was replacing Toritani at third, smoked a ball over the center field wall for his first home run in Japan. Hanshin 4, Yomiuri 0

Top 2: A leadoff hit got parlayed into a run as soft-hitting Kobayashi flared one in front of Itoi with two outs. Hanshin 4, Yomiuri 1

Bottom 3: The soup remained hot even as the Kansai temperature cooled down. With Fukudome on first, Campbell blasted another ball into right center, this one landing near the base of the wall, and giving the 40-year old veteran plenty of time to come around and score. A couple of batters later, Umeno poked one up the middle to give Campbell his second run of the game. Hanshin 6, Yomiuri 1

Bottom 6: The only thing left to keep people engaged was when Batman would appear. Toritani, who wore a protective mask over his broken nose, resembled the Caped Crusader, and came to the plate with two outs. He was greeted by a raucous crowd, but grounded out to third. Picture of the masked man here.

Top 8: With 116 pitches on his slate, most thought Randy’s night was over after seven. Instead, he came in to face the heart of the Giants’ order, just to remind them of who’s boss. Eleven pitches later, he and the Hanshin fielders sat down in the dugout, the victory all but in hand. Messenger’s line: 8 IP, 5 H, 3 BB, 1 R, 10 K.

Final Score: Hanshin 6, Yomiuri 1. WP: Messenger (6-1)  Team Record: 26-17-0

Season Series:  5 – 5 

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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.