vs. Swallows – June 30-July 2 – Final At Bat Underlies Loss, Ohyama Ultimate Savior

This isn’t funny anymore. The implosion against a powerful Rakuten Eagles team, I get. Same with the shutout the next day. Then losing two straight to Hiroshima is hard to stomach but also a plausible scenario, one we could stomach, to an extent. But the ONE RUN series against the Dragons? Sure, it was on the road, but it still turned many fans’ attitudes sour. The perfect remedy should be a home stand against the last place Yakult Swallows, especially when they have just lost yet another regular player for the season. Right?

Game 70 – Friday 6/30. Mess of a Game

Starting Pitchers: Koyo Aoyagi (3-2) vs. David Buchanan (4-2)

Bottom 2: With one out and the bases loaded, Takashi Toritani hit into a double play, but one that ended on a non-force play, and because the runner on third reached home before the third out was recorded, the Tigers scored their first run in 22 innings. Hanshin 1, Yakult 0

Top 5: The Blue Goat cruised through the first four innings, walking just one (who got gunned down on a failed stolen base attempt). But when Balentien’s grounder was fielded nicely by Toritani and then thrown away (but still ruled a hit), Aoyagi fell apart. A double and a beaning clogged the bases with no outs, and then a second straight hit batsman (that’s two in two pitches) brought the tying run home. Two outs later, a hard-hit ball caromed off Nakatani’s glove and into right, scoring two more runs. Another beaning reloaded the bases, and another walk brought in yet another run. Balentien mercifully struck out to end the inning, which could have been a lot worse. Or better, had Toritani not thrown the ball so poorly. Either way, Aoyagi hit the showers after giving Swallows fans every reason to break out their umbrellas. His final line: 5 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 3 HBP, 4 R, 5 K. Hanshin 1, Yakult 4

Bottom 5: For the first time since June 23 (that’s a week = 5 games), Hanshin got an RBI hit! Kosuke Fukudome got jammed but also found a hole in the left side of the infield, scoring Hiroki Uemoto from second. Hanshin 2, Yakult 4

Bottom 7: The lack of hitting in the clutch has reached maddening levels. Toritani and Uemoto set the table for Yoshio Itoi, whose grounder got bobbled by their third baseman for Yakult’s third error of the game (they actually could have been charged with at least one more). Tori scored from second on the play, but with runners on the corners and no outs and the game in the balance, the heart of Hanshin’s order went down without a fight: strikeout, weak grounder, foul pop. Hanshin 3, Yakult 4

Bottom 9: Down to their final strike, Hanshin battled back hard. Itoi single (his first hit in 20-ish at bats). Down to their last strike, Hanshin bore down. Fukudome walk. Down to their last strike, Hanshin got lucky. Wild pitch advances the runners. BUT… Akiyoshi, the Swallows closer, injured himself (this team is brittler than Tsuyoshi Nishioka). So with just one strike left in the game, a fresh reliever came in. Strikeout. Game over.

Final Score: Yakult 4, Hanshin 3. LP: Aoyagi (3-3). Team Record: 37-33-0

Game 71 – Saturday 7/1. Big Blast, End of Streak Overshadows Fukudome’s Slump

Starting Pitchers: Atsushi Nohmi (2-3) vs. Juri Hara (2-4)

Bottom 3: For the second straight time through the order, Fukudome was given a golden chance to break open the scoring and out of his slump. In the bottom of the first, he popped up to the catcher with runners on the corners and one out. Here, with two runners in scoring position, he struck out swinging. Fortunately, the man batting after him, rookie Yusuke Ohyama, belted a 1-0 offering over the left field wall for the team’s first home run since June 16. Hanshin 3, Yakult 0

Top 4: Nohmi had been doing fairly well up to this point (though his pitch count was somewhat high), but he gave up a leadoff home run to Tetsuto Yamada. Hanshin 3, Yakult 1

Top 6: The crafty 38-year old veteran finished off his start in style – two straight perfect innings including ending this one on a strikeout to Yamada. Nohmi’s line: 6 IP, 102 TP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 5 K.

Bottom 7: A golden opportunity presented itself for Hanshin to increase its lead, as the bases were loaded for Ohyama with just one out. However, he struck out looking and Takayama grounded out to pitcher on the first ball he saw.

Final Score: Hanshin 3, Yakult 1. WP: Nohmi (3-3). SV: Rafael Dolis (21). Team Record: 38-33-0

Game 72 – Sunday 7/2. Return of the Scrappy Cats

Starting Pitchers: Yuta Iwasada (3-5) vs. Masanori Ishikawa (4-8)

Bottom 2: After leadoff hits by Ohyama and Shun Takayama, Yamato poked one through the left side to open the scoring for the good guys. Hanshin 1, Yakult 0

Top 6: Iwasada escaped an earlier jam in the fourth with some solid defense by Ohyama, but couldn’t stop the Swallows attack when the same batters came up to the plate. A Yamada single and Balentien double were followed by a bases-clearing triple and a squeeze play, putting Iwasada in line for the loss. He left the game when his turn came up at the plate in the bottom half. His line: 6 IP, 88 TP, 7 H, 2 BB, 3 R, 4 K. Hanshin 1, Yakult 3

Bottom 6: Fukudome doubled to lead off the inning, and Ohyama flared one over the second baseman into shallow right, which was just enough to bring the old codger home. Then an out and a walk later, Masahiro Nakatani shot one up the middle to plate the tying run. Leave it to Yakult’s pitching to gift us another go-ahead run on a wild pitch. Hanshin 4, Yakult 3

Bottom 7: With two outs and no one on, Itoi hit his first home run in just over a month, clearing the wall in the far corner of right field. Hanshin 5, Yakult 3

Top 8: Marcos Mateo ran into the same hitters that had plagued Iwasada earlier in the game, and gave up back-to-back singles. The next guy faithfully bunted them into scoring position, and Hanshin, content to give up one run, set the infielders at regular depth (instead of drawing them in – a strategy they have had to employ a lot lately) and let a run score on a grounder. Mateo shut the door before they could even the score.

Final Score: Hanshin 5, Yakult 4. WP: Iwasada (4-5). SV: Dolis (22). Team Record: 39-33-0

Season Series:  7 – 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.