@ Swallows – August 22-24 – Dingers in Tokyo, Magic in Yokohama

The road trip of death has just one week left. So far it has been quite successful, but now is not the time to let up. Playing against the last-place Yakult Swallows, against whom the Tigers have had good success this year (who hasn’t, really?), it would be nice to win two or three. But with the devastated condition our starting rotation is in, we would need our bullpen to be at its best.

Game 110 – Tuesday 8/22. O NO! Not Again! Rookie Leaves Game Early

Starting Pitchers: Taiki Ono (0-7) vs. Masanori Ishikawa (4-11)

Bottom 2: After recording two straight outs, Ono gave up a solo home run to Nakamura. Hanshin 0, Yakult 1

Top 4: With two outs and no one aboard, Masahiro Nakatani and Yusuke Ohyama hit back-to-back homers. On back-to-back pitches. Lead is ours. Hanshin 2, Yakult 1

Bottom 4: O no. Three straight hits, then a sacrifice fly, and the tide has turned. Fortunately (or not), Ono left the mound after experiencing discomfort in his leg right after this. Ono’s line, including the inherited runner that Tsuyoshi Ishizaki allowed on a squeeze play: 3.1 IP, 56 TP, 6 H, 1 BB, 4 R, 3 K. Hanshin 2, Yakult 4

Top 5: Who would have thought that the team would be bailed out by the bats of Ryutaro Umeno (leadoff single) and Shunsuke (home run)? But it happened, and the proof is here:

Hanshin 4, Yakult 4

Bottom 9: Things stayed that way, despite Yakult knocking on the door in the 7th and 8th. Our relievers clamped down hard to keep them off the board. Even here, Kentaro Kuwahara gave up a double and then intentionally walked Balentien, but then induced a double play to Yamada. With a runner on third and two outs, Rivero hit a cheap single to shallow center to end the game. Perhaps it was overdue after the Tigers escaped the earlier jams. Still stings.

Final Score: Yakult 5x, Hanshin 4. LP: Kuwahara (3-2). Team Record: 60-49-1

Game 111 – Wednesday 8/23. Same Outline, Different Story

Starting Pitchers: Minoru Iwata (2-0) vs. Juri Hara (2-8)

Bottom 1: Iwata opened the game with three straight hits against, the third of which scored the game’s first run. Hanshin 0, Yakult 1

Top 3: Fumiya Hojoh and Seishiro Sakamoto set the table for Yoshio Itoi, who slapped one through the left side of the infield, scoring one. A batter later, Kosuke Fukudome launched one into the right field stands. Hanshin 4, Yakult 1

Bottom 4: It’s Jingu, and balls that would be easy fly balls in other parks leave the field. Solo shot for Rivero. Hanshin 4, Yakult 2

Top 5: It’s Jingu, but some balls are home runs regardless of the stadium. Take, for instance, this Itoi offering… Hanshin 5, Yakult 2

Bottom 5: Unfortunately for Iwata, he got slapped around in this inning. A hit up the middle was followed by a two-run Balentien blast to dead center, and then a walk, two outs and two hits. With the bases juiced, Iwata’s night was over. Line: 4.2 IP, 101 TP, 10 H, 3 BB, 4 R, 1 K. Kyuji Fujikawa put the brakes on the Swallows rally by inducing a fly out to short. Hanshin 5, Yakult 4

Top 7: With two outs and Jason Rogers on board (with his first hit in ages, it seems), Nakatani launched one deep into the left field seats.

On this night, the relief meant business. Marcos Mateo threw a clean 7th, Kuwahara did the same in the 8th, and Rafael Dolis gave up a weak infield hit but wrapped things up with a game-ending double play against Balentien. So the Tigers were scored on early and hit three home runs for the second straight game. But this time, the W was ours.

Final Score: Hanshin 7, Yakult 4. WP: Fujikawa (2-0). SV: Dolis (30) Team Record: 61-49-1

Game 112 – Thursday 8/24. Nakatani Hits Another Dinger!

Starting Pitchers: Takumi Akiyama (10-4) vs. Tomoya Hoshi (4-5)

Top 1: With Hiroki Uemoto on second base (infield hit, stolen base) and two outs, Rogers hit a seeing eye single up the middle to bring the speedster home. Hanshin 1, Yakult 0

Bottom 1: Hiroki giveth and Hiroki taketh away. After getting Balentien out with runners on first and second, Akiyama induced an inning-ending double play to Yamada. Oops! Make that an error-inducing botched double play. Uemoto threw the ball wide and in the dirt and Rogers couldn’t snag it. Hanshin 1, Yakult 1

Top 2: Just to make sure no one had a bad taste in their mouths for long, Takashi Toritani made his 1989th career hit count… Hanshin 2, Yakult 1

Top 3: With runners on first (Fukudome) and third (Itoi), Nakatani kept the magic coming with another huge shot into the left field stands. Hanshin 5, Yakult 1

Bottom 3: Not to be outdone, Wladmir “the impaler” Balentien went yard on Akiyama with one man on base. Hanshin 5, Yakult 3

Top 4: Hojoh led the inning off with a hit, and with two outs and two men on, Uemoto atoned for his earlier error with a single to center that put this game out of reach for the home team. Hanshin 6, Yakult 3

Akiyama was locked in after getting this huge lead, going eight strong (8 IP, 92 TP, 5 H, 0 BB, 3 R, 2 ER, 6 K), and Dolis came in and locked it down with a 10-pitch perfect ninth.

Final Score: Hanshin 6, Yakult 3. WP: Akiyama (11-4). SV: Dolis (31). Team Record: 62-49-1

Season Series:  14 – 7 

Perhaps the bigger story in the CL was the one that took place in Yokohama. On Tuesday night, the BayStars hit back-to-back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the ninth to erase a 5-2 deficit and walk off with a win. On Wednesday night, they hit a game-tying home run with one out to go in the game, and then walked it off the next inning. On Thursday night, they tied the game up in the eighth after being down a run, and then walked it off in the ninth. Three straight walk-off wins against the Hiroshima Carp, whose magic number has vanished (like magic!) for the second time. The gap between Hanshin and Hiroshima is down to 6.5, which is still pretty significant, but with 30 or so games left, anything is possible. Especially since the Carp lost their cleanup hitter, Seiya Suzuki, for the season after he broke a bone in his leg in Wednesday’s loss.

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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.