“I wanna hold them as close to zero as I can.” — 20-year old Tigers’ starter Shintaro Fujinami, before the game. Unfortunately, the day off and change in venue did nothing to alter the outcome of Game 3. Like Atsushi Nohmi did in Game 2, Fujinami surrendered an early run and the Tigers bats never found themselves as Hawks starter Kenji Ohtonari threw seven innings of 3-hit ball, leading his team to a 5-1 win. The SoftBank Hawks now lead the series 2-1 and play the next two games in their home stadium.
Once again, two pitches was all it took for the Hawks to put a man on base. Yuki Yanagita hit a double and was brought home by Seiichi Uchikawa’s bat two men later. Fortunately for Fujinami, he escaped the inning without allowing any more damage, despite giving up one more hit to slugger Dae-Ho Lee.
As the game wore on, it became painfully clear that the Hawks had all the momentum they needed, putting at least one man on base in each of the first four innings. Meanwhile, the Tigers managed just 2 runners in the first six innings, one of whom (Kosuke Fukudome‘s walk) was nullified by a Ryota Arai (DH) double play. The floodgates burst open in the bottom of the sixth, as the Hawks’ lead ballooned from 2 runs to 5 while they chased two pitchers (Fujinami and reliever Kazuya Takamiya) and battered another (Yuya Andoh).
Again in the seventh, the Tigers got a runner on (Hiroki Uemoto), only to hit into another double play (Takashi Toritani). Yet another man (Mauro Gomez) reached base but the team could not cash in on their chance.
In a somewhat surprising move, the Tigers brought youngster Hiroaki Saiuchi into the game for the bottom of the seventh, and he pitched two shutout innings, allowing just one hit. Unfortunately for the Tigers, time and at-bats were running out as they managed nothing in the eighth, and sent two more batters to the dugout sheepishly in the ninth.
Finally with two outs, the bats showed some signs of life. Uemoto got another hit, this time taking two bases, giving the team its first real scoring chance. Toritani made no mistake, flaring a single to center, and breaking the Hawks’ shutout against their strong closer Dennis Sarfate. In the end, though, the veteran got the final out, inducing a weak pop-up to center from Gomez. Game over. Tigers lose, 5-1.
The series continues tomorrow in Fukuoka, with the Tigers bringing lefty Minoru Iwata to the mound. The Hawks are likely to respond with Kenichi Nakata. It is a must-win for the Tigers, as tying the series at 2 gives them home field advantage again. Let’s look for the men in pinstripes to make a strong comeback tomorrow evening. GO TIGERS!