@ Carp – September 5-7 – Three Blown Leads Blown Off as “Kaze”

Somehow in the past month, the Tigers have managed to take away the Hiroshima Carp‘s magic number. Twice. And in the month of August, they managed to cut an 11-game gap between the teams in half. And yet during that time, the team only went 2-3-1 in their head-to-head matches. This three-game set in Hiroshima had only one acceptable result: a three-game sweep for the Tigers. Not for the Carp. I repeat. Not for the Carp.

Game 122 – Tuesday 9/5. Seesaw Game Ends in Walkoff Loss

Starting Pitchers: Shintaro Fujinami (3-5) vs. Yusuke Nomura (9-3)

Bottom 1: Vintage Shintaro. Opens the game with a walk, and a couple of batters later, a Matsuyama home run puts the Tigers in a hole. Hanshin 0, Hiroshima 2

Top 2: Fortunately, Nomura wasn’t at his best on this night, either. Three straight singles loaded the bases, and the first run came in on a double play. But Seishiro Sakamoto hit one to center to tie the game up. Hanshin 2, Hiroshima 2

Top 3: The Tigers got their first lead of the game after a Tsuyoshi Nishioka double and a one-out Yusuke Ohyama lucky hit that somehow foiled Kikuchi and Abe at the same time. Hanshin 3, Hiroshima 2

Bottom 3: But Shintaro wasn’t done showing us that he’s still not ready to return to ace status. After getting their pitcher out, he gave up a bunt single, then threw in a walk and hit a guy for good measure. With the bases loaded, Matsuyama hit a dribbler to short that allowed for a run to score, and the next guy up singled in two more. Hanshin 3, Hiroshima 5

Top 5: Before we get to the good news, here’s our departed starter’s line: 4 IP, 84 TP, 5 H, 3 BB, 1 HBP, 5 R, 4 K. And now, the good news…a leadoff walk and a two-out single were parlayed into a scoring chance for Fumiya Hojoh, and he took a two-strike offering into shallow left for a crucial RBI. (Two at bats in a row, he had hit crooked home runs. Straighten those out and we have a huge lead already.) Hanshin 4, Hiroshima 5

Top 6: Pinch hitter Hiroki Uemoto took the first good pitch he saw from Jay Jackson and crushed it. Hanshin 5, Hiroshima 5

Bottom 7: Matsuyama (tired of that name? Me too) led off the inning with a single, and pinch runner Noma stole second (could have been called out – it was close) and another single pushed the Carp ahead. Hanshin 5, Hiroshima 6

Top 9: Yoshio Itoi collected his second hit of the game to lead this one off, and a couple of batters later, the Tigers took the lead on this Kosuke Fukudomerun! Hanshin 7, Hiroshima 6

Bottom 9: Unfortunately, the same thing happened in the bottom half, with Rafael Dolis on the mound. With one out, he allowed an infield single and then a fatal walk off home run to end this one in a loss.

Final Score: Hiroshima 8, Hanshin 7. LP: Dolis (3-4). Team Record: 68-53-1

Game 123 – Wednesday 9/6. Different Day, Different Pitchers, Same Result

Starting Pitchers: Minoru Iwata (2-0) vs. Yuta Nakamura (4-3)

Top 2: The Tigers got an early lead when Masahiro Nakatani tattooed his 19th baseball of the season. Hanshin 1, Hiroshima 0

Top 7: There’s something about our guys and making Fukudome run all the way from first to home. This time it was Takashi Toritani with his 1997th career hit, a double. Hanshin 2, Hiroshima 0

Bottom 7: Good Iwata showed up in this one and stymied the Carp bats. He left after striking out the leadoff hitter, with this line: 6.1 IP, 92 TP, 4 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 7 K

Top 8: Uemoto hit a one-out double, Itoi walked and then Fukudome hit one up the middle to give the Tigers another insurance run. (This insurance policy was not good enough, though, as we shall see.) Hanshin 3, Hiroshima 0

Bottom 8: Oh boy. Marcos Mateo struggled, and so did the defense behind him. Kikuchi hit a one-out triple (Fukudome looked like he lost it in the lights or something), then an infield hit, another single, and a second run scores on a ground out. So with two outs and the tying run on second, Abe hits a single to right, which gets past Itoi, which means the runner scores with ease. Hanshin 3, Hiroshima 3

Hiroshima had a walkoff chance in the ninth but Kyuji Fujikawa held them off the board. Then Hanshin had a chance in the top of the tenth. It took until…

Bottom 11: Tsuyoshi Ishizaki, who had been perfect on the season until this point, walked the seldom-used little brother of Uemoto, who then stole second (though replays show he was out), and the game-winning hit flew over a drawn-in outfield. Heartbreak for the second straight night.

Final Score: Hiroshima 4, Hanshin 3. LP: Ishizaki (0-1). Team Record: 68-54-1

Game 124 – Thursday 9/7. Solved Johnson; Not Abe

Starting Pitchers: Takumi Akiyama (12-4) vs. Kris Johnson (6-3)

The Japanball Tour has rolled into the country, and this year I have been given a chance to help out! Part of the helping involved being at tonight’s rainy game. Most nights the seats for the tour are behind home plate, or at least in the infield. However, Hiroshima sold out all its 2017 tickets in three days at season’s start, so we ended up in the Hanshin cheering section. I was OK with that.

Top 1: Perhaps it’s the combination of rain and Johnson that we need. On Opening Day we pounded him in the cold March rain. Tonight Itoi and Fukudome drew walks before Ohyama smacked a double down the left field line, and right after him, Nakatani saw his hit drop in shallow right for two more runs. Hanshin 3, Hiroshima 0

Oh, and me and some of the tour group were on TV during Itoi’s at bat, thanks to the towel-waver next to me:

Bottom 3: Unfortunately, Akiyama made a crucial mistake when he allowed a hit to Johnson, which was followed by a Tanaka home run. Hanshin 3, Hiroshima 2

Top 4: With the bases juiced (again, two walks helping us) and just one out, Akiyama was up at the plate. We already had two inning-ending double plays at this point, and his sharp grounder to third looked like an easy one, too. But Nishikawa’s arm is weak, and he one-hopped the ball to first. No catch, run scores. Hanshin 4, Hiroshima 2

Bottom 5: All I can say is, at least they didn’t wait until game’s end to finish us off. Double (barely out of Itoi’s reach), ground out, walk, RBI single, sacrifice fly, RBI triple (by Abe, just out of Nakatani’s reach), RBI double. That ended Akiyama’s night (5 IP, 101 TP, 8 H, 2 BB, 6 R, 2 K), and the Tigers got just one hit the rest of the way: a ninth inning Toritani single. I suppose the good news is that Daiki Enokida made his 2017 debut and pitched three shutout innings.

The other good news is that we stayed at the same hotel as the Hanshin players, and after the game I got to talk with Dolis a bit and Jason Rogers, too. Great guy.

Final Score: Hiroshima 6, Hanshin 4. LP: Akiyama (12-5). Team Record: 68-55-1

Season Series:  9 (1) 13 

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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.