@ Marines – May 30-June 1 – Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Hanshin has a relatively mediocre record against every Pacific League team these past dozen years of interleague existence. The team against which Hanshin has its second best record are these Chiba Lotte Marines. However, last season they are the lone team that swept us three straight. However, these Marines are not the same team they were last year. It has taken them until the final week of May to finally make a statement of any sort. And while they ended the month with a whimper, they got June off to an encouraging start. (Which means the opposite is true of our Tigers.)

Game 47 – Tuesday 5/30. Akiyama Gets Run Support At Last! And He Needed It!

Starting Pitchers: Takumi Akiyama (3-3) vs. Ayumu Ishikawa (0-4)

Top 1: It didn’t take long for the fireworks to begin. Shun Takayama worked a five-pitch walk, stole second, and came home on a Yoshio Itoi long ball halfway up the right field bleachers. Hanshin 2, Lotte 0

Bottom 2: The Marines got a little lucky with a bloop single to shallow left, putting runners on first and second with one out. Both runners came around on a double down the left field line, which was bobbled. But it didn’t matter because the next batter walloped one over the left field wall, cleaning up what was left behind. Hanshin 2, Lotte 4

Top 3: Takayama atoned for his error by swatting a ball over the right field wall. Despite a chance to even the score (runners on first and second with no outs), the bats cooled off for perhaps the only time all night. Hanshin 3, Lotte 4

Top 4: Shunsuke hit a double down the left field line, and advanced to third on a pick-off attempt gone wrong. Ryutaro Umeno brilliantly laid down a bunt down as Shunsuke dashed towards home, knotting this game up. Hanshin 4, Lotte 4

Top 5: Two walks set the table for Kosuke Fukudome, who lashed one just beyond the shortstop’s reach, scoring a run. After Takashi Toritani got his first post-beaning hit (he started this game at third base), Kento Itohara chopped a soft grounder to second, and the throw home was not in time. All runners safe. Back-to-back 2-RBI doubles by Shunsuke and Umeno put this one out of reach. Or so it seemed. Hanshin 10, Lotte 4

Bottom 5: Apparently the big lead was not going to last very long. Three singles stuffed the bases, and then Akiyama drilled the next hitter, bringing home a run. A sacrifice fly scored them a second run, and with two outs, an RBI single brought the score to within three. Akiyama’s night ended here. 5 IP 11H 7 R 1 BB 9 K. Hanshin 10, Lotte 7

Top 6: But when you have Shunsuke in your lineup, you need not worry. Itoi took his third of four walks on the night, followed by a Fukudome double and then Toritani reaching on their third baseman’s error. With the bases loaded, number 68 hit his third double of the night, scoring two more runs. Hanshin 12, Lotte 7

Top 7: And then Hiroki Uemoto took his second free pass of the night, stole his second base of the night, and made his way home on a Fukudome single that caromed off the third baseman’s glove and into no-man’s land. Hanshin 13, Lotte 7

Top 9: For good measure, Itoi walked again, Masahiro Nakatani moved him to third with a double, and Toritani got him home on a grounder. Then Itohara doubled to deep left to cash in Nakatani. Just one thing left in this one…

Bottom 9: Kyuji Fujikawa entered this game needing just one more strikeout to reach 1000 for his career. (Pretty impressive for a guy who has been a reliever for 99% of the time.) The first guy got rung up on a pitch that looked quite low, but it was good enough. For good measure, Kyuji got the next guy swinging, and induced a pop fly to ex-Tiger Kohei Shibata for the game’s final out.

Final Score: Hanshin 15, Lotte 7. WP: Akiyama (4-4). Team Record: 28-19-0

Game 48 – Wednesday 5/31. Nohmi Celebrates 38th Birthday in Style

Starting Pitchers: Atsushi Nohmi (1-2) vs. Kuan-yu Chen (1-1)

Top 2: Nakatani, Yamato and Shunsuke set the table for Umeno, who hit one down the left field line for a 2 RBI single. Runners advanced on a bad throw home. Then Takayama softly but deftly grounded out to second, scoring Shunsuke from third. Hanshin 3, Lotte 0

Bottom 8: Nohmi, who turned 38 on the weekend, brought his best stuff. He was at 84 pitches after 7 innings, but ran into a little trouble with two outs in this frame. He reached the 100-pitch mark with a walk, and was yanked in favor of Kentaro Kuwahara. Nohmi’s final line: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 0 R, 9 K. Needless to say, Kuwahara bailed him out.

Top 9: Itoi dropped one into left field just over the third baseman’s head, scoring Fumiya Araki from third. A couple of batters later, with the bags juiced, Nakatani hit into a groundout that could have been an inning-ending double play. Well, it was, but it was a 4-3-6-2 double play, as Fumiya Hojoh scored from third while the infield was chasing Fukudome down, and then they eventually gunned Itoi down at home. No harm there, though. Hanshin got all the insurance it needed.

Final Score: Hanshin 5, Lotte 0. WP: Nohmi (2-2). Team Record: 29-19-0

Game 49 – Thursday 6/1. A Lifeless Heart of the Order

Starting Pitchers: Randy Messenger (6-1) vs. Yuki Karakawa (1-6)

Top 1: Not 30 seconds into this game, Takayama knocked one over the wall in center field for an early lead. Despite Uemoto’s follow-up hit, the inning ended quite quickly afterward. Hanshin 1, Lotte 0

Bottom 1: Messenger’s control was not at its finest. A leadoff single was followed (eventually) by a walk and then a two-run double. Actually, Takayama’s fielding was a big cause of this one. The ball was flared into left field, and Takayama did not get to it in time despite appearing to have a shot at it. The next batter knocked one to right, padding the lead just a little more. Hanshin 1, Lotte 3

Bottom 5: Messenger walked the first guy on (his third of four on the night), the Marines moved him two bases forward on two outs. An infield single by Kakunaka brought him home. Hanshin 1, Lotte 4

Bottom 7: Messenger struggled again in this inning, walking one and allowing a hit, but getting out unscathed. His final line: 7 IP, 6 H, 4 BB, 4 R, 6 K

Bottom 8: Kazuo Itoh came in to mop up in this one. Clearly the Hanshin bats (particularly the cleanup hitters, who not only went hitless, but hit into two double plays) were not going to produce a comeback here. And Itoh made sure of that. He plunked the first guy he faced, then with one out, was a home run shy of letting the next guys combine for the cycle. Still, the end result was four runs against, and a blowout loss.

Final Score: Lotte 8, Hanshin 1. LP: Messenger (6-2). Team Record: 29-20-0

All-Time Head-to-Head Record:  26 – (5) – 22

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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.