vs. Dragons – September 1-3 – Bombs Away!

After struggling to score runs against the Yakult Swallows (but still winning all three games), the Hanshin Tigers hosted the Chunichi Dragons over the weekend. It was a much needed six-game home stand after a 27-game trip away from Koshien Stadium. For the most part, this one went down as expected, although Sunday’s game left fans with a bit of a bittersweet taste in their mouths.

Game 119 – Friday 9/1. Back-to-Back Jacks Rescue Fielders

Starting Pitchers: Koyo Aoyagi (4-4) vs. Shotaro Kasahara (0-1)

Bottom 3: With runners on first and second (both via the walk), Yusuke Ohyama, who was put in the 4-slot for the first time ever, did the unthinkable. He swung at a 3-0 offering. It worked, though, as his double to left opened the scoring. Hanshin 1, Chunichi 0

Bottom 4: Two outs into this inning, it looked over. But Seishiro Sakamoto doubled to the left-center gap, and Aoyagi got his second hit and second RBI on the year right after that. Hanshin 2, Chunichi 0

Top 7: The Blue Goat had been cruising up to this point, minus the two hit batsmen. A leadoff double was followed by a fielder’s choice (on a sac bunt, Sakamoto’s throw to third was off target) and a third beaning. And so once again, the Blue Goat left the mound with his tail between his legs. His line: 6.0 IP, 102 TP, 3 H, 1 BB, 3 HBP, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 K. Kentaro Kuwahara was called on to try to prevent runs from scoring, but… a single brought two home, and a booted ball by Fumiya Hojoh allowed the Dragons to take the lead. Hanshin 2, Chunichi 3

Bottom 8: Ohyama fought hard for a free pass to first. Masahiro Nakatani came up, and on a full count, spanked a ball deep into the left field stands, his 17th dinger on the year.

And just to make clear that the lead was ours for good, Takashi Toritani hit one into the right field stands right after, also on a full count.

Top 9: For the fourth straight night, Rafael Dolis was called upon to preserve the win, and for the fourth straight night, he did it with what looked like ease.

Final Score: Hanshin 5, Chunichi 3. WP: Suguru Iwazaki (3-0). SV: Dolis (34). Team Record: 67-51-1

Game 120 – Saturday 9/2. Clean-Up Hitters Cleaned Up

Starting Pitchers: Atsushi Nohmi (4-6) vs. Ryosuke Oguma (0-2)

Bottom 1: Yoshio Itoi led off with a double to the right field corner. He was bunted over to third by Kai Ueda, who was making his first career start, and Kosuke Fukudome hit a sacrifice fly to deep left center to open the scoring. Hanshin 1, Chunichi 0

Bottom 2: After a Nakatani leadoff hit and a one-out walk to Hiroki Uemoto, catcher Seishiro Sakamoto hit his first career Koshien home run. Hanshin 4, Chunichi 0

Top 3: Yes, it is true that Nohmi loaded the bases, so he is in part to blame for what happened with two outs. But the grounder to short that took a weird bounce over Ueda’s head was completely out of his control. Hanshin 4, Chunichi 2

Bottom 3: Not to worry, though. Batting fourth for the second straight game, Ohyama smashed one over the left field fence to extend the lead once again. Hanshin 5, Chunichi 2

Bottom 4: Sakamoto collected his second hit of the game, then advanced to second on a Nohmi bunt, and scored on an Itoi single to right. Hanshin 6, Chunichi 2

Top 6: There was nothing really wrong with Nohmi’s outing, other than his pitch count getting too high too soon. After sitting down three straight guys (infield fly, strikeout, ground out), he called it a night. His line: 6 IP, 107 TP, 5 H, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 2 R, 6 K

Bottom 6: Toritani continued his steady march to 2,000 career hits with a single to center for his 1,994th hit. He advanced to second on an Uemoto bunt (yes, three bunts tonight against pretty useless Dragons pitching), and scored on a Sakamoto single. Hanshin 7, Chunichi 2

Bottom 7: Ueda got his first career hit on a grounder to shortstop, and then tried to show off his speed even more on a stolen base attempt. He might have 25 swipes on the farm, but is now 0-2 in his career on the top squad. Anyhow, it wasn’t too important, as Fukudome took their reliever to deep center right after. Hanshin 8, Chunichi 2

Bottom 8: Not to be out-done or caught in the team standings, Nakatani smoked a fastball into the stands in left center.

For the record, this was the first game at Koshien in 5 years in which the Tigers have hit 4 home runs. Last time the feat was accomplished back in late July 2012, Toritani, Ryota Arai (x2) and Matt Murton went yard.

Final Score: Hanshin 9, Chunichi 2. WP: Nohmi (5-6). Team Record: 68-51-1

Game 121 – Sunday 9/3. Defense and Management Lost This One

Starting Pitchers: Luis Mendoza (0-0) vs. Shinnosuke Ogasawara (3-6)

Top 1: Mendoza’s debut did not start as planned. Back-to-back hits left him in a precarious position. But on a whiffed bunt attempt, Sakamoto caught their lead runner off guard and threw him out at second. Then their batter grounded out straight to first, and Ohyama scooped up the ball, stepped on first and threw the runner out at second. Crisis averted.

Top 4: However, the Dragons were still the first ones on board. A leadoff “single” (Ueda did well to get to the ball, but did poorly in throwing it over Ohyama’s head) was followed by an Alex Guerrero jack to deep left. Hanshin 0, Chunichi 2

Bottom 5: Most of the Tigers bats were struggling to figure out Ogasawara, but Uemoto made no mistake on this 3-1 offering. Hanshin 1, Chunichi 2

Bottom 6: Itoi led off with a double into the right field corner, and was bunted over a base (for the second time on the night) by Ueda. This time, though, Fukudome cashed him in with a single to right. The bases eventually loaded themselves up, and Uemoto had a chance at the team’s first grand slam at Koshien in 4 years (this also by the above-mentioned Ryota). Unfortunately he came a few feet short and the catch was made on the warning track. Hanshin 2, Chunichi 2

Top 7: A one-out “single” (it somehow went through Uemoto) was followed by Mendoza’s first walk on the night. He got the second out, but then their catcher got hold of a juicy pitch and hit it to the wall. It looked like the damage would be limited to one, as the back runner staggered after rounding third, but the throw home was not properly corralled and the lead was back up to two. Mendoza threw really well, and with a better defense, could have at least left the game with a tie or lead. His line: 7 IP, 96 TP, 7 H, 1 BB, 4 R, 8 K.

Unfortunately, that was all we got. Our pinch hitting choices were questionable in the 7th and the decision to not pinch hit for Sakamoto with the game’s last at bat was also a weak decision. (So, especially, was the choice to bunt Itoi from second to third in the sixth inning. ENOUGH BUNTING, TOMOAKI!)

Final Score: Chunichi 4, Hanshin 2. LP: Mendoza (0-1). Team Record: 68-52-1

Season Series:  14 – 9 

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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.