vs. Swallows – August 29-31 – Ending August in Style

Just a week ago these two teams squared off in the home-run friendly confines of Jingu Stadium. The Tigers experienced a spike in their offensive numbers while enjoying another series victory against the Yakult Swallows. And at long last, the team was back at Koshien Stadium to play baseball – the first time since July 27. The long road trip wasn’t very killer, though: the team played 15 of its 27 games in domes, and in August that is never a bad thing. Also, their 16-10-1 record yielded their best winning percentage of the past decade. The schedulers did Hanshin a good service by putting the Swallows on its schedule for the triumphant return home.

Game 116 – Tuesday 8/29. Who Says 13 is an Unlucky Number?

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

Making his thirteenth start of the season and still winless, Ono was hoping for some early run support, good defense, and decent enough pitching to get through five innings. He got all three.

Top 1: Ono walked one but got a double play on a strikeout and failed steal attempt.

Top 2: All kinds of trouble. Walk, hit, pass ball put runners on the corners with no outs. But a lazy grounder to first got the runner heading home. Still, runners on second and third with one out… but Ono got a strikeout, then walked the bases full, then got a jam-ending strikeout.

Bottom 2: Masahiro Nakatani reached second base when his sharply hit grounder to third was poorly fielded. Takashi Toritani continued his march to 2000 career hits with an RBI single up the middle. Then Fumiya Hojoh hit what should have been a single (or even an out if the left fielder was any good), but a clumsy Balentien missed it and let it skip past him to the wall. Counts as an RBI triple. Hanshin 2, Yakult 0

Top 3: Ono walks another, but benefits from an orthodox double play.

Top 4: Ono gives up just his second hit of the day, but a nice bounce off the wall and a solid throw by Nakatani got the lead-footed runner out at second.

Bottom 5: Hit the ball to Balentien enough, and you’ll get a few bases you don’t deserve. Seishiro Sakamoto‘s lazy fly ball was dropped by an even lazier fielder. He would eventually come around to score on a Hiroki Uemoto single to center. Hanshin 3, Yakult 0

Top 6: Once again, Ono walks the leadoff guy, but once again is bailed out by a double play. His night ended here with this line: 6 IP, 87 TP, 2 H, 5 BB, 0 R, 4 K

Literally, nothing else happened the rest of the way except out after out. One infield hit from our team, but that was negated by a failed stolen base attempt. Oh, and Rafael Dolis set a club record for fastest pitch with this fastball.

Final Score: Hanshin 3, Yakult 0. WP: Ono (1-7). SV: Dolis (32). Team Record: 64-51-1

Game 117 – Wednesday 8/30. Dramatic Walk Off

Starting Pitchers: Minoru Iwata (2-0) vs. Juri Hara (2-9)

Bottom 1: Yoshio Itoi fought hard for a 12-pitch infield hit, got bunted over the second base, and scored on a Yusuke Ohyama single to shallow left. Balentien didn’t even try throwing home. Hanshin 1, Yakult 0

Bottom 3: Uemoto reached base on a walk, stole second, and Ohyama hit a soft fluttering ball into shallow center to extend the lead. Hanshin 2, Yakult 0

Top 6: Iwata cruised along fairly well through the early parts of the game, but fell apart quickly here. Back-to-back singles gave Balentien a huge chance to put his team in the lead, but he struck out for the second time on the night. Unfortunately, Iwata then walked Yamada, and with the bases juiced and just one out, his night was over. 5.1 IP, 99 TP, 6 H, 3 BB, 2 R, 3 K. Two runs because Kyuji Fujikawa struck out Rivero but gave up a single up the middle on his first pitch to the next guy. Hanshin 2, Yakult 2

Top 7: Kentaro Kuwahara doesn’t get enough mentions on this site, does he? Well, he came in to try to keep the game tied. A leadoff double followed by a sacrifice bunt put the game in jeopardy, but he coaxed a ground out that led to a run-down. With the runner on third gone, he was able to get another ground out to escape the jam.

Top 8: Unfortunately, Marcos Mateo was not able to pitch a clean inning. A certain diminutive superstar having a rough season found a good pitch to swing at, and just like that… Hanshin 2, Yakult 3

Bottom 8: But the Tigers struck back. Three straight walks with a bunt in there for good measure gave Ohyama a bases loaded, one out chance. He hit a fly ball to shallow center, but with speedy pinch runner Kai Ueda on third, the tying run was scored with ease. Hanshin 3, Yakult 3

Bottom 10: Dolis eased through the ninth, and Akifumi Takahashi gutted his way through a gut-wrecking tenth. In the bottom half, with two outs and Itoi up at the dish, this happened…

Final Score: Hanshin 4, Yakult 3. WP: Takahashi (6-0). Team Record: 65-51-1

Game 118 – Thursday 8/31. Akkyaman Wins Dozenth Game

Starting Pitchers: Takumi Akiyama (11-4) vs. David Buchanan (6-11)

Akiyama allowed runners in all but one inning tonight, but the defense behind him was (mostly) solid, turning two double plays and getting the lead runner out twice in key situations.

Bottom 4: After a one-out Kosuke Fukudome single and an Ohyama walk, Toritani delivered with a seeing-eye single up the middle. The old guy rumbled around the bases and there was no throw to home.

And that’s all the scoring we’ve got. Akiyama’s night ended with a clutch strikeout as he went: 7 IP, 103 TP, 7 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 4 K. Once again our relief was rock-solid. Coupled with Hiroshima’s second straight loss, the gap between Hanshin at the top is now just 5.5 games.

Final Score: Hanshin 1, Yakult 0. WP: Akiyama (12-4). SV: Dolis (33). Team Record: 66-51-1 

 Season Series:  17 – 7 

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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.