@ Dragons – July 28-30 – Team Shows Life in Road of Death Opener

Could the annual “Road of Death” road trip start anywhere worse than Nagoya Dome? Our boys have NEVER fared well there, except perhaps the last time we won the pennant, back in 2005. Having been completely humiliated the last time we faced the Chunichi Dragons in their territory, Hanshin needed to take at least two of three in this series. Besides, being tied for second place with the BayStars doesn’t look too good, either. Especially given that we were comfortably ahead of them just a few weeks ago.

Game 89 – Friday 7/28. Another Blue Moon? Yamato Hits Home Run!

Starting Pitchers: Takumi Akiyama (8-4) vs. Raul Valdes (6-5)

Top 2: After squandering a great chance in the first inning (bases loaded, two outs, which came on the heels of an out at the plate on a Jason Rogers hit), the unlikeliest of things occurred to open this inning. Brace yourselves. Yamato. Hit. A. Home. Run. Rub your eyes and read that again. It’s true.

And the fun continued a bit. Seishiro Sakamoto singled, advanced on a bunt, and scored on a foul fly and an error. Hanshin 2, Chunichi 0

Top 4: Takashi Toritani and Yamato hit back-to-back singles, and after two outs (Sakamoto bunt and Akiyama K), Shunsuke went shopping at the Gap (Left-Center Branch), bringing two more runs home. Hanshin 4, Chunichi 0

Bottom 7: Akiyama was not without his flaws in this one, but he got out of every jam he put himself in: he escaped one with a double play, and got the third out of 4 separate innings via the strikeout. On the night, he went 7 IP, 99 TP, 6 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 8 K – including 3 in this inning.

Top 8: Yusuke Ohyama legged out an infield single, and Rogers took a freebie to give Toritani a solid chance to increase the lead. He pulled one down the first base line, just fair, and an insurance run scored. Hanshin 5, Chunichi 0

Bottom 9: Roman Mendez came in and worked around an error, striking out the last two guys swinging to bring this one to a safe close.

Final Score: Hanshin 5, Chunichi 0. WP: Akiyama (9-4). Team Record: 48-41-0

Game 90 – Saturday 7/29. Saved by the Long Ball!

Starting Pitchers: Randy Messenger (10-5) vs. Shinnosuke Ogasawara (2-5)

Top 1 – Bottom 5: Both starters were throwing darts. Ogasawara had our guys nearly completely fooled, giving up 1 hit (a double high off the left field wall to Rogers) while striking out 7. In the bottom halves of the frames, Messenger was nearly as good – three singles scattered and also 7 punch-outs. No scoring by either team.

Top 6: Randy continued to swing the hot stick, driving a single into shallow center with just one out. And then… Brace yourselves. Shunsuke. Hit. A. Home. Run. Rub your eyes and read that again. It’s true.

Despite Hiroki Uemoto getting himself into scoring position with a single and stolen base, the bomb was all we got. Hanshin 2, Chunichi 0

Bottom 7: In what would be his last inning, Randy ran into a bit of trouble. After three straight hits started the inning badly (they scored one run on the third hit), a couple of outs later it looked like he might escape with the lead. However, a sharply hit grounder saw shortstop Yamato bobble it (the play looked a bit like a screen play in hockey – Chunichi’s base runner prevented Yamato from getting a good look at it) and not get the throw to first base in time. Score tied. Randy’s line: 7 IP, 104 TP, 8 H, 0 BB, 2 R, 1 ER, 8 K. Hanshin 2, Chunichi 2

Top 10: That’s right – first extra-innings game for Hanshin in ages. Yamato fought his way on base with a walk, and two batters later, pinch hitter Kosuke Fukudome hit his first ever home run at Nagoya Dome as a Tiger. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

Final Score: Hanshin 4, Chunichi 2. WP: Akifumi Takahashi (3-0). SV: Rafael Dolis (25). Team Record: 49-41-0

Game 91 – Sunday 7/30. Helpless Hitters, Hopeless Hurler

Starting Pitchers: Atsushi Nohmi (3-5) vs. Tomoya Yagi (0-0)

Bottom 2: The first five outs of the game came easy for Nohmi, but that was all the promise he showed in this one. Back-to-back doubles gave the home team the game’s first run. Hanshin 0, Chunichi 1

Bottom 3: Once again with two outs and the bases empty, Nohmi fell apart. Two straight hits, the second of which was a home run by the league leader, Alex Guerrero, put this one out of reach by a little more. Hanshin 0, Chunichi 3

Bottom 4: This inning, Nohmi wasted no time getting wasted. Four straight hits (including a homer) were only interrupted by a sacrifice bunt. The damage had been done and then some. Nohmi’s night was over. Final line: 4 IP, 75 TP, 8 H, 0 BB, 6 R, 3 K. Hanshin 0, Chunichi 6

Bottom 8: After several strong outings, Mendez finally got tagged for a few hits and a run against. As for the Tigers bats, well… four singles scattered across 9 innings don’t get you many runs in too many games. Bad ending to the series, but winning 2 of 3 in Nagoya is a moral victory in itself.

Final Score: Chunichi 7, Hanshin 0. LP: Nohmi (3-6). Team Record: 49-42-0

Season Series:  9 – 8 

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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.