Let’s not fool ourselves. The Yakult Swallows are sitting a distant last in the standings, but any given team can win any given game. These Swallows have been playing decent ball of late, having come back from a 10-run deficit last week against the Dragons, and then overcoming a 4-run Giants lead on Thursday night. But during this August road trip, the Tigers have to find ways to win the games they are supposed to win. With two of their best pitchers of 2017 on the mound, this one played out as one might have expected… though it came at a cost.
Game 95 – Friday 8/4. Dominant Pitching, Timely Hitting
Starting Pitchers: Randy Messenger (10-5) vs. David Buchanan (5-8)
It took awhile for either team to get anything going in this one. Since there were few scoring plays, we’ll start with a key momentum builder…
Top 5: A couple of soft hits gave Yakult runners on the corners with just one out. Randy struck out the next batter at the plate. The runner at first had taken off for second, and catcher Ryutaro Umeno pump-faked that throw before setting up a run-down between third and home. Easy third out. Crisis averted.
Bottom 5: Masahiro Nakatani became just the second Tiger to reach base by drawing a leadoff walk. It was followed by a Texas Leaguer by Takashi Toritani. As Nakatani bolted for third, Balentien threw one almost into his own dugout, and Nakatani trotted towards an unguarded home plate for an easy score. There was ample chance to score a second run, but Umeno blew a squeeze play by bunting right at their pitcher. Hanshin 1, Yakult 0
Bottom 7: Jason Rogers powered a ball into the right field corner for a two-bagger, and Nakatani followed it up with this fireworks display:
That would be all. Messenger went the distance: 9 IP, 127 TP, 4 H, 2 BB, 9 K, 0 R. First complete game shutout by a Hanshin pitcher this season.
Final Score: Hanshin 3, Yakult 0. WP: Messenger (11-5). Team Record: 51-43-1
Game 96 – Saturday 8/5. Another Shutout; But Another Injury Too
Starting Pitchers: Takumi Akiyama (9-4) vs. Yasuhiro Ogawa (5-4)
Bottom 1: With two outs and no one aboard, Kosuke Fukudome launched one into the right field stands. Hanshin 1, Yakult 0
Bottom 2: With one out and runners on the corners, a weak grounder by Seishiro Sakamoto was soft enough to prevent a double play and scored a single run. Hanshin 2, Yakult 0
Top 3: After issuing a 2-out walk, Akiyama left the mound after feeling discomfort in his right thigh. He would not return to the game, and went to the hospital to be examined. Hoping it’s nothing serious. His line: 2.2 IP, 52 TP, 1 H, 1 BB, 4 K, 0 R. *Reports on Sunday evening are that Akiyama joined the team in pre-game workouts and practice, and will likely not need to be de-activated.*
Bottom 3: Shun Takayama led off with a triple that fell just short of clearing the wall, and then with one out, the cleanup guys drew a couple of walks to stuff the bags. Unfortunately, neither of the next two guys put the ball into fair territory. Foul out to catcher and strikeout, and the score remained the same.
Bottom 5: Hiroki Uemoto (double) and Fukudome (walk) got on board with one out, and Rogers stroked a double down the right field line to bring them both home. Hanshin 4, Yakult 0
And that was it. Five relievers combined to complete the shutout (the last four threw a perfect inning each), and Yakult has yet to put a run up against the Tigers in this series so far.
Final Score: Hanshin 4, Yakult 0. WP: Ryoma Matsuda (1-1). Team Record: 52-43-1
Game 97 – Sunday 8/6. Unlikeliest of Heroes Bails Team Out Late
Starting Pitchers: Atsushi Nohmi (3-6) vs. Masanori Ishikawa (4-11)
Top 2: The Swallows were gifted their first run of the series with a couple of poor plays in the field (dropped outfield fly by Fukudome, fumbled grounder by Yusuke Ohyama). Hanshin 0, Yakult 1
Bottom 3: For the second time in the game, Shunsuke doubled and Fumiya Hojoh walked. This time, though, instead of grounding into a double play as he did in the first, Fukudome blooped one into shallow right. Both runners scored as Sakaguchi the musketeer (cheesy mustache-chin beard combo) failed to get on his horse quick enough, then jumped to try to catch the ball on one hop. Failed. And for a guy who used to call Kyocera his home when he played for the Orix Buffaloes, that’s kinda embarrassing. Hanshin 2, Yakult 1
Top 4: Nohmi gave up two home runs – Balentien sent one halfway to Nagoya, and then with a runner on, Rivero took him to left as well. Hanshin 2, Yakult 4
Bottom 5: Umeno smacked a double down the line, then advanced on an Uemoto fly ball to right. Shunsuke collected his third hit of the game to bring him home and make this a little closer. With Nohmi’s spot in the batting order taken by a pinch hitter, his day was over with the following mediocre line: 5 IP, 85 TP, 5 H, 2 BB, 0 K, 4 R, 3 ER. Hanshin 3, Yakult 4
Bottom 7: Late replacement (!) Toritani started things off with a single, and then (who else?) Shunsuke split the right side of the infield with a single of his own. Up came pinch hitter Hayata Itoh, who usually caves under pressure. But then this happened:
That’s right. The former first-round pick came through. Hanshin 6, Yakult 4
Top 9: Rafael Dolis entered the game and struck out the first batter he faced. But his forkball went five-hole on Umeno. The next batter got a hit, putting men on the corners with no outs. Then a sacrifice fly scored a run for the visitors, and after an amazing defensive play by Yamato for a second out, another hit put runners on the corners again with two outs. Fortunately, Dolis induced a grounder to himself for the game’s last out. Sweep the birds and their dung out of here!
Final Score: Hanshin 6, Yakult 5. WP: Suguru Iwazaki (2-0). SV: Dolis (27). Team Record: 53-43-1