vs. Eagles – June 16-18 – Rough End to Interleague

With nine interleague wins and a weekend of clear skies in the forecast, it looked like the Tigers would have a couple of good things going for them as they headed back to league play: 1) A winning record against the stronger Pacific League; and 2) With no rain dates to make up, four straight days off. The bad news was that their final opponent was the best-hitting team (in terms of average) and two of the best pitchers (in terms of ERA) in the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Hanshin gave it a good effort, but fell just short in the end.

Game 62 – Friday 6/16. ‘Sadaday Night Fever

Starting Pitchers: Yuta Iwasada (2-4) vs. Shoma Fujihira (0-0)

Bottom 2: Takashi Toritani legged out a one-out infield single, and Fumihito Haraguchi brought his big stick to the park for the second straight night. This time, he rode a pitch all the way into the left field stands. Hanshin 2, Rakuten 0

Top 3: After mowing down the first six guys he faced, Iwasada gave up a jack of his own, and it wasn’t to any of the Eagles’ big boys. Little Miyoshi, who was replacing Eigoro Mogi at short, found enough swing speed to pull a low pitch over the wall. Iwasada walked the next guy he faced, and then settled right back into his groove. Hanshin 2, Rakuten 1

Top 7: Four innings later, Iwasada still had not let another guy touch first base and stay there. He would leave after throwing 107 pitches. His line: 7 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 R, 6 K.

Bottom 8: Getting a rare start at short, Fumiya Hojoh collected his second hit of the night, which was followed by a big Shun Takayama double. The color man on TV was lambasting Hojoh for not making it around to score. The Eagles elected to intentionally walk Kosuke Fukudome to load the bases, but Toritani made them pay, hitting a two-out single to shallow center. Hanshin 4, Rakuten 1

Top 9: Rafael Dolis struck out the first three guys he faced. Unfortunately, one of those was a wild pitch that allowed the swinger to reach first base. Then with two outs and a runner on second, the Eagles got a run back, and the tying run (Zelous Wheeler) came to the plate. Fortunately, his fly ball to right was not deep enough to clear the wall. All’s well that ends well.

Final Score: Hanshin 4, Rakuten 2. WP: Iwasada (3-4). SV: Dolis (20). Team Record: 37-25-0

Game 63 – Saturday 6/17. Played With Fire, Got Burned

Starting Pitchers: Koyo Aoyagi (3-2) vs. Manabu Mima (7-1)

Top 1: The Blue Goat is back to normal after walking just one guy last week. All he needed was two hitters to surpass that total. Wheeler knocked one of them in to open the scoring early. Hanshin 0, Rakuten 1

Top 3: After bail outs via the double play in each of the first two innings, Aoyagi loaded the bases with a couple of hits and a beaning, and then on an infield hit, another run scored for the Eagles. They tried to get greedy, sending another runner home, but he easily became the third out. Hanshin 0, Rakuten 2

Bottom 4: Hojoh and Takayama continued their good hitting from Friday, and while they were in scoring position, Masahiro Nakatani knocked one in with a single, and Haraguchi brought home the other with a double off the left field wall. All knotted up. Hanshin 2, Rakuten 2

Top 5: Aoyagi completed his second straight clean inning, and since his turn came up at the plate in the bottom of the frame, his day ended here. Final Line: 5 IP, 80 TP, 4 H, 3 BB, 1 HBP, 2 R, 4 K.

Top 6, 7: ‘Yagi’s replacement, Suguru Iwazaki, didn’t fare so well, playing with some serious fire in his inning and a bit of work. He allowed two base runners in each inning, and didn’t record a single out in the seventh. With the flames getting plenty warm, fireman of the year Kentaro Kuwahara put out the flames with three consecutive strikeouts.

Top 8: Oh boy. Marcos Mateo really didn’t have his best stuff here. Walked Wheeler, who took second base on a steal, a fly out, then a triple to left (Fukudome seemed to lose it in the wind), then a strikeout and another walk. With two outs, Haraguchi boots a grounder that was almost right at him, and a run scores and the inning gets prolonged. Mateo out, Ryoma Matsuda in. Another walk. Carlos Peguerro made him pay. First pitch crushed. The end.

Final Score: Rakuten 8, Hanshin 2. LP: Mateo (5-2). Team Record: 37-26-0

Game 64 – Sunday 6/18. Gutsy Pitching, Tough-Luck Loss

Starting Pitchers: Taiki Ono (0-2) vs. Takayuki Kishi (4-2)

Top 6: Ono cruised through five innings, giving up just 3 hits and no walks, but with one out in this frame, walked a guy, allowed a hit to the next, and then another that just got past shortstop Kento Itohara and brought a run in for the visitors. Hanshin 0, Rakuten 1

Bottom 6: A heart-breaking double play stopped a rally before it could get started, as Rakuten second baseman Fujita smothered Haraguchi’s grounder with his outstretched glove, then glove-tossed the ball to short who finished the double play with a speedy throw to first. Toritani struck out looking at a generous third strike call.

Top 7: Two grounders and a fly ball got Ono through his final frame with ease. His final line: 7 IP, 98 TP, 5 H, 1 BB, 1 R, 3 K.

Bottom 8: The real back-breaker came after Hiroki Uemoto and Nakatani set up a one-out, two men on situation for Fukudome, who grounded into his league-worst 14th double play on the first pitch he saw.

Bottom 9: With one last gasp, Yamato and Yoshio Itoi got back-to-back two-out hits, and pinch runner Fumiya Araki stole second base, putting the walk-off runner on second base. Shunsuke came in to pinch hit, and drove the first ball he saw over the just foul of the left field wall pole. Unfortunately he was unable to put a ball in play after that, striking out and ending the comeback bid. Still, props to the Tigers for fighting hard until the final pitch.

Final Score: Rakuten 1, Hanshin 0. LP: Ono (0-3). Team Record: 37-27-0

Head-to-Head Record:  28 – 25 

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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.