Winning pitcher Randy Messenger said it all: “Any time I pitch a 1-0 game, it seems like he (Fukudome) is the one hitting the home run.” The big righty more than did his part too, shutting out the Carp hitters for eight innings, allowing just five base runners and retiring 21 of the last 23 batters he faced. Having thrown “just” 105 pitches (quite low for him, as he has gone as high as 147 this season), the fans were left wondering who would try to close out the game in the ninth. In the end, Wada decided against trying to get a complete game out of his starter, and brought in closer Seung-hwan Oh. The first-year Korean struck out the side on 12 pitches and the crowd went nuts. Game 1 of the best-of-3 goes to the Tigers.
For his part, Fukudome drew a walk and collected a pair of hits, including a sixth inning solo home run off Carp starter Kenta Maeda. “From the moment I hit it, I thought it might find its way out of the park,” he said nonchalantly in the post-game hero interview. It left the park in the deepest part of the field, clearing the center field wall with room to spare. It was the game’s lone run, and although most 1-run leads are nerve-racking, this one seemed comfortable, given the way the big man was pitching. “He’s definitely a dependable pitcher,” quipped Fukudome, paying respect to the man standing to his left on the hero’s podium.
Though the Tigers managed just one run, they had plenty of chances before and after Fukudome’s blast. They put at least a runner on base in each of the first seven innings, and had men in scoring position three times. Maeda pitched just well enough to keep the score down, though he did miss on his 100th pitch – a 3-1 low outside fastball that stayed in the strike zone.
Game 2 is scheduled for Sunday at 2pm, but should the forecasted rain/typhoon cause a delay, they will play Monday at 2pm, and if necessary, Tuesday evening. The rules for the First Stage of the Climax Series stipulate that the series must conclude by then. The Final Stage is set to start in Tokyo on Wednesday, with the winner facing the Giants. Should there only be time for two games to be played, well, the series is already over. By virtue of having finished the regular season in second place, the Tigers automatically win the tiebreaker if the third game cannot be played on time. This win was all the more crucial with Typhoon 19 bearing down on mainland Japan, threatening to cancel one or two games.
Up next: Atsushi Nohmi for the Tigers, and probably Daichi Ohsera for the Carp. GO TIGERS!