“Forget interleague play. Move on and play better,” they said. Despite the harsh words spoken by coaches, players and fans alike, the Tigers finished the mini-season with a 10-8 record, good for best among Central League teams, and putting them close enough to the top of the CL standings despite being 2 games over par (under .500, that is). As league play resumed with a two-game set against the Yakult Swallows, and then two more on the road against the Hiroshima Carp, the Tigers shortened their rotation and hoped to take at least 3 of 4. At the halfway point, how have they fared?
Game 1: This was the day many have been waiting for. At long last, 254 at bats into his season, Matt Murton has finally hit his first home run. (Video of his bomb here.) It came in the bottom of the second, and he followed it up with another hit in the fourth, giving many hope that his extra practice sessions on days off has helped him find his groove. He was not the only foreigner to come up big on this day, as Mauro Gomez also hit a pair of RBI singles. Starter Randy Messenger fought off the Swallows despite not bringing his A+ game (it was, say, A- on this day), allowing just a run in seven innings pitched (six hits, five walks, seven strikeouts). Seung-hwan Oh shut the door and set the fat lady singing after his 10-pitch shutout ninth inning. Final Score: Tigers 4, Swallows 1.
Game 2: If Saturday was a party for the foreigners, Sunday was one for the natives. Ryota Imanari opened the scoring with a seeing-eye single to right. After a couple of runs against starter Shintaro Fujinami in the fourth, the Tigers roared back in the sixth, with a Kosuke Fukudome solo shot (his 9th on the year) and then a bases-loaded 2-RBI double by pinch hitter Keisuke Kanoh. The Tigers never looked back, and their Korean closer once again sent the visitors packing on just 12 pitches. Lotsa game highlights here. Final Score: Tigers 4, Swallows 2.
Series Notes: Murton’s home run came on a 3-1 count and landed somewhat deep in the left field stands. Said the man, “At last I got it. I’m glad I was able to put us on the board so early in the first game back after interleague play.” Indeed, fans welcomed the long ball… Hiroki Uemoto had a great series, driving in one, stealing a base and plating twice in the opener, and getting three hits in the second game… “Sixth foreigner” Nelson Perez made his farm debut on Saturday, committing an error in the first inning before going 0-for-4 (2 strikeouts) in a less-than-stellar debut. “I’m still not in 100% game shape,” the Dominican explained, “I didn’t get any rest all week”… Messenger’s shutout streak ended at 27 in the 4th inning of Saturday’s game. It is the second longest of the year by a Tigers pitcher (Fujinami went 32) and left him just short of the club record by a foreign pitcher. That mark still belongs to legend Gene Bacque at 34. Still, Messenger has lowered his ERA from 5.88 when he got shipped down to the farm, to 3.71 now… The Tigers now find themselves in second place, just a half game out of first, thanks to a prolonged slump by the Giants and Baystars. However, just 3.5 games separate the top from the bottom in the Central, leaving everyone in contention. Here are the standings as of the end of play on June 21: