On paper, the series leans in the Giants’ favor considerably. There’s a reason they take things to the diamond, though. The Hanshin Tigers stormed out to a 5-0 lead and never really looked back. With closer Seung-hwan Oh on the mound in the 9th, the atmosphere in Tokyo Dome was subdued, as fans were left to face the reality of a 2-1 series deficit. The lone win for the Giants is an “imaginary” one, given to them by virtue of winning the division in the regular season. As it stands right now, they are searching frantically for an explanation as well as an answer to the Tigers’ pitching. Once again the hero of the night was the starting pitcher: Minoru Iwata threw 7 innings, allowing just 2 runs, earning a long-awaited win.
Both teams’ bats were fairly silent until the top of the 3rd. With one out, Iwata took first on a walk. Nishioka advanced him on an infield single, and then Uemoto brought him home on a line drive to center. Toritani was the next batter up, and his sharp grounder found its way to right field, scoring another run. Once again the Tigers had jumped out to a solid lead, 2-0.
Iwata did not do himself any favors in the bottom of the inning, though. With a runner on first and one out, pitcher Sawamura was called on to advance the runner. His bunt was well placed, but what should have been 2 outs and a runner on 2nd turned into a great scoring chance for the Giants. Iwata’s throw to first was in the dirt and Uemoto was unable to corral it. Iwata then walked leadoff hitter Chono, leaving the bases loaded and only one out. Fortunately, he coaxed a ground ball double play out of Hashimoto, ending the threat. Again in the fourth, a couple of hits and some sloppy fielding led to another scoring chance for the Giants. Iwata remained calm and got the third out without a run scoring.
The Tigers bats came back to life in the 5th, though it did not come without a scare. Following a leadoff walk to Nishioka, Sawamura lost control of a 1-2 pitch that hit Uemoto squarely in the helmet. The Giants pitcher was ejected from the game, and Uemoto remained motionless for a few minutes. He managed to get up on his own and walk to the dugout. While reliever Kubo was warming up, Uemoto recovered and jogged back to first to resume the game. Toritani took the first pitch he saw and put it through the infield, scoring Nishioka. Two batters later, Murton‘s bat came to life with a 2-run single to left. The Tigers’ lead had ballooned to 5-0!
There’s something about that seventh inning for the Giants, though. Again a home run with no outs brought them to within three, as Iwata surrendered a 2-run blast to Ibata. Fortunately he settled down nicely and retired the side to put a halt to the Giants’ charge. For an inning, anyways. The bottom of the eighth put another scare into the hearts of Tigers fans, as Fukuhara came in and proceeded to give up a deep fly ball to center. Only a beautiful Yamato catch prevented it from being an extra base hit. He then plunked the next batter and was pulled. Takamiya came in to put out the fire, facing Abe for the second straight night in a similar situation. Miraculously, Abe duplicated Chono’s inning-ending double play from the previous inning – a line drive to first caught by Gomez, who doubled up the baserunner.
All signs point towards a Randy Messenger – Toshiya Sugiuchi showdown tomorrow evening. Another Tigers win would put immense pressure on the Giants. As it stands, the Tigers are still not in the clear – they must win two of the remaining four games. The way their pitching is rolling now, it may only take two more. GO TIGERS!