For the second straight series, the Hanshin Tigers lost two of three to an opponent that should have been easier to beat. This time, the losses were at the hands of long-time rivals Yomiuri (Kyojin) Giants.
The series opened up on Friday with a Tigers win as starter Randy Messenger tossed 8 innings of 2-run ball. Though he struggled with control at times, he also induced several double plays, and the bats produced enough to give the team a big win. Catcher Ryutaro Umeno had two clutch hits, providing 3 of the team’s 4 runs in the process. However, as I noted after the game, there were definitely troubling signs within the victory that indicated the team should not be overconfident heading forward. Other bright spots in this one include Tsuyoshi Nishioka‘s four hits and Seung-hwan Oh‘s first clean inning of the season. Final Score: Tigers 4, Giants 2.
Game two saw Minoru Iwata take the mound with the hopes of duplicating his first start of the season. Unfortunately, he got behind early when Kataoka blasted a 3-run home run to left in the third. The Tigers chipped away at the lead, with Matt Murton doing what Umeno had done the night before, driving in three runs on two hits. The score was tied heading into the bottom of the sixth, but that’s when things got chaotic. Iwata’s lone out came on a sacrifice bunt as the Giants appeared to have him figured out. They pushed the winning run across the plate and loaded the bases before Manager Wada took the wrong course of action. He brought in rookie reliever Tsuyoshi Ishizaki, who walked home a run, induced a shallow pop fly, walked home another, then gave up two consecutive RBI hits before finally striking out the last hitter of the inning. The damage, though, had been done, and the close game became a laugher. The lone other consolation for the Tigers was second baseman Hiroki Uemoto‘s 2-run blast in the seventh, his first run-producing hit of the year. Final Score: Giants 9, Tigers 5.
Today’s game never was a match. Starter Shintaro Fujinami continued to struggle early in games, giving up two runs in the second inning. The bats sputtered all day, recording a mere two hits and only bringing more than three men to the dish in an inning twice. Despite Fujinami calming down and tossing a complete game, the bad guys’ pitcher (rookie Hayato Takagi) was better, shutting the Tigers completely down. Final Score: Giants 3, Tigers 0.
The Tigers fall out of first place for the first time this season, as the Chunichi Dragons continue to roll after being swept by the Tigers in the opening series. The standings look like this:
Up next for the Tigers is their first home stand at Koshien this year, as they host the DeNA Baystars. Look for Nohmi, Iwamoto and perhaps Iwazaki to start those three games. Here’s to hoping the men in pinstripes can pile up a few more victories in the coming week.
Other Notes: In game 2 of the series, none of the Tigers’ 27 outs were recorded in the outfield. They grounded out 14 times, struck out 8, fouled out 3 times, popped up to the infield once and had one line drive caught by the shortstop… Nishioka had his hitting streak end Sunday at six games, while Takashi Toritani‘s ended on Saturday at seven. He had hit safely in each of the team’s games until then… After just two games, third baseman Ryota Imanari reinjured his right side and was sent down to the minors for rehab. Reliever Yuya Andoh complained of shoulder issues as well and has been de-activated. Replacing them are veteran reliever Shinobu Fukuhara and utility man Keisuke Kanoh… Wada and pitching coach Nakanishi admitted their use of Ishizaki on Saturday was perhaps a little cruel. Ishizaki, for his part, vows to put the outing behind him and get better… Rookie Taiga Egoshi made his first career start on Sunday, going 0-for-3 with 2 strikeouts. Ryota Arai also made his first start of the year on Saturday, replacing Kosuke Fukudome, who took a day of rest. Arai went 0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts.