@ Buffaloes – June 6-8 – Big Win, Tough Loss, Scrappy Win

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The last time these two teams clashed at Kyocera Dome (in 2015), the results were disgraceful. Hanshin got outscored 26-2 over three games, and left Osaka for the comfortable confines of Koshien with bruised egos. Would this time be any different?

Game 53 – Tuesday 6/6. Two Big Innings

Starting Pitchers: Takumi Akiyama (4-3) vs. Chihiro Kaneko (6-2)

Bottom 1: Akiyama walked the first guy, gave up an infield single. He got a little help from catcher Ryutaro Umeno, though, who caught the runner on second sleeping on the job. Still, three hits in succession after that were enough to give the Buffs an early lead. Orix 2, Hanshin 0

Top 3: Kento Itohara got on base with a single to right. Umeno bunted him over. With two outs, the floodgates broke wide open. Hiroki Uemoto doubled, Shun Takayama singled, Kosuke Fukudome walked, Fumihito Haraguchi singled, and Takashi Toritani hit a 3-run home run. (That hit gave him 305 career interleague hits, more than anyone else in history.) Hanshin 6, Orix 2

Top 6: Again, the combination of an Itohara hit and an Umeno bunt started this rally, which saw Kaneko leave the mound with two outs and two men on. Before he left the mound, though, ex-teammate Yoshio Itoi dropped a single into center field, scoring a run, and Uemoto walked. Then the Buffaloes gifted us twice – an errant throw to third, and a pass ball. Somewhere in there, Haraguchi hit a 2-RBI double, too. Hanshin 11, Orix 2

Bottom 8: Despite actually pitching fairly well, Akiyama gave up quite a few hits. Most of them were bloop singles and the like, though. His outing ended with the Tigers’ third inning-ending double play of the night. Final Line: 8 IP, 120 TP, 12 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K.

Bottom 9: With little to play for except earning more playing time, Ryoma Matsuda proved that perhaps he was not worthy of being called up earlier today. He got knocked around for three hits and threw a wild pitch, giving the Buffaloes a little joy at night’s end, but when all was said and done, their 7-game winning streak (and perfect interleague record) came to an end.

Final Score: Hanshin 11, Orix 4. WP: Akiyama (5-3). Team Record: 32-21-0

Game 54 – Wednesday 6/7. Singled Out of a Win

Starting Pitchers: Atsushi Nohmi (2-2) vs. Daiki Tohmei (0-0)

Top 1: With the bases loaded and one out, Haraguchi broke up a double play by sprinting to first base while the runner on third (Itoi) made his way home. Hanshin 1, Orix 0

Top 4: Haraguchi led off with a double, which was followed by a Toritani single, and then a Masahiro Nakatani three-run bomb to left. Hanshin 4, Orix 0

Bottom 5: Nohmi had been cruising until he served up a fat pitch for T-Okada to smash into the right field stands. Hanshin 4, Orix 1

Bottom 6: Nohmi gave up four straight hits (two scored runs) and left the game with runners in scoring position and nobody out. Kentaro Kuwahara did reasonably well against his old mates, allowing just one of the inherited runners to score while getting out of the jam with minimal damage done. Nohmi’s final line: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 4 R, 7 K. Hanshin 4, Orix 4

Top 9: It took until this point for Hanshin to get another runner on base after Nakatani’s home run. With two outs and the bases juiced, Itoi feebly grounded out to first base. No score change.

Bottom 9: Marcos Mateo did not look good at all, right from the start. Walk, bunt, walk. The two subsequent singles were enough to push the walk-off run across home.

Final Score: Orix 5, Hanshin 4. LP: Mateo (5-1). Team Record: 32-22-0

Game 55 – Thursday 6/8. Doing Just Enough

Starting Pitchers: Randy Messenger (6-2) vs. Brandon Dickson (5-3)

Bottom 1: After two quick outs, Orix used a walk sandwiched between two singles to get on the board first. Hanshin 0, Orix 1

Top 2: Riding a 22-AB hitless streak, Fukudome used his eyes to get on base, then advanced to third on a Haraguchi single to right. Toritani grounded into a double play, but it was enough to even the score. Hanshin 1, Orix 1

Top 5: Toritani parted the left-center gap with a double, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored easily on a Nakatani single up the middle. Hanshin 2, Orix 1

Top 6: This time it was Itoi’s turn to take his base on balls. He was advanced to second on an Uemoto bunt, then to third on a Takayama grounder, and at long last (couldn’t have been timed better), Fukudome snapped out of his funk with a single up the middle. He then stole second base, but was stranded there at inning’s end. Hanshin 3, Orix 1

Bottom 6: Nakatani robbed Nakajima of extra bases with a jumping catch in the right field corner, but Messenger gave up back-to-back doubles with two outs, and his night was over. Needless to say, the second of those doubles brought the score to within one. Messenger’s line: 5.2 IP, 127 TP, 6 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 3 K. Hanshin 3, Orix 2

The game sped up considerably in the final three innings, with just one hit and three walks between the two teams. Mateo avenged Wednesday’s performance with a clean, 9-pitch eighth, and Rafael Dolis worked around a walk to pick up the save.

Final Score: Hanshin 3, Orix 2. WP: Messenger (7-2). SV: Dolis (19) Team Record: 33-22-0

All-Time Head-to-Head:  26 (1) 26 

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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.