What Makes Murton Great

Obviously this is just one part of the story, and I am sure every player has his own ways of improving his craft. I just really liked this video (looks like it first aired at the end of April 2010) and it adds to my admiration of Matt Murton as a professional baseball player. Hope you can enjoy it, too. If you don’t understand Japanese, there are a few interview clips where the answer is in English. If you understand Japanese then you’ll appreciate the video that much more.

Foreigners Coming Through!

At one point a few weeks ago, there were lots of complaints about our fabulous four. These men all won individual awards last season but were off to pretty slow, uninspired starts, it seemed.

Co-heroes of last night's game: Taiga Egoshi (3-run HR) and Randy Messenger (7 IP, 1 ER)!

Co-heroes of last night’s game: Taiga Egoshi (3-run HR) and Randy Messenger (7 IP, 1 ER)!

Randy Messenger was 1-3 with a 5.63 ERA to start the year. What does he do? Just pitch 7 innings of 1-run ball to help the team start just its second winning streak of the season. And he’s still not pitching his best! He even said so in the hero interview. I’m sure we are going to see a great May from the team’s best pitcher. Perhaps another wins title, another strikeout title as well? After all, he now holds the Central League record for most career double-digit strikeout games by a foreign pitcher (12). Here’s Randy having fun trying to sign the camera lens after the game.

ohroughstart2015

Oh’s early season struggles — blue = walks, green = hits — have settled down significantly in recent weeks.

Seung-hwan Oh was putting men on base like it was the latest fashion in the early going. Through four outings he had allowed 11 baserunners and despite only giving up a run, he looked really shaky. Since then, he has calmed down and has recorded 9 saves in 10 chances. He now holds the club record for most career saves by a foreigner (48), surpassing Jeff Williams.

The team is getting used to seeing Gomez clearing the bases while getting on board himself.

The team is getting used to seeing Gomez clearing the bases while getting on board himself.

There was talk of Mauro Gomez being overweight and out of shape, but over the past two weeks he has knocked in 13 runs and is in second place in the Central League with 19 on the season. His batting average (.316) is tops on the team as well. Not bad for a guy that everyone complains “strikes out too much” or “chases too many bad pitches.”

The hero of tonight's game with two hits and two RBIs: Matt Murton!

The hero of tonight’s game with two hits and two RBIs: Matt Murton!

Finally, Matt Murton was dropped to sixth in the batting order because of “poor hitting.” I’m not going to deny that he looked a little lost up there and grounded out to pitcher (or any of the infielders) way too much for the first half of April. But since ending a 24-at bat hitless streak, Murton has hit safely in five straight games (8-for-19 = .421) with 4 runs batted in. His average nearly dipped below the Mendoza Line last week, but is now a much healthier .245 – and it continues to rise with each passing game.

In all fairness to these four men, they have were the most consistent players on the whole team last year, and cannot be expected to carry the load every game of every season. But it sure is nice to see them back in the headlines – for all the right reasons.

The Tigers now are now riding a three-game winning streak — their first since the opening series of the season — and sit just 2.5 games behind the Giants and Swallows in the Central League standings. Just a few more wins and they will look like a completely different team than the one that was tied for last place less than a week ago. GO TIGERS!

The Game I Saw – Tigers 2, Giants 0?

The view from the right field stands last night. Though distant, it sure was a beautiful night to be at Koshien Stadium!

The view from the right field stands last night. Though distant, it sure was a beautiful night to be at Koshien Stadium! The Tigers lost 3-2 despite a pretty good night all around.

The Hanshin Tigers game I saw last night was one of total dominance for the home team. Starter Randy Messenger pitched 6 innings of 4-hit, 10-strikeout shutout ball while the hitters put up two runs in the 4th inning. The relievers (Kaneda, Takamiya, Shimamoto, Matsuda and Ishizaki) cobbled together two more innings of shutout ball as well. The Giants pressed at times for runs but could not bring anyone home.

Unfortunately for the team and its fans, this was the “game I saw” and does not count the first inning, one I spent lining up for a special fan club gift, in which the Giants rallied for three runs before anyone realized the game had started. So the final score was 3-2 Giants, despite the misleading headline.

I will not throw anyone under the bus, but I do have to say that so far this year (not just last night), Matt Murton has been a shadow of the man he was last season, not to mention the other four seasons preceding it. His four plate appearances went: groundout to pitcher, groundout to second, groundout to second, walk. He has grounded out too many times to count (OK, it’s been 10 so far in 16 at bats this week) and just is not hitting the ball well at all. I love the guy and do not place the blame on him for any of the team’s losses… but they definitely need the Murton of 2010-2014 to show up. I’m sure he is more aware of this than anyone else.

On the bright side, Kosuke Fukudome has found his game this year, and actually leads the Central League in OBP among Japanese players so far. Mauro Gomez seems to be hitting the ball better as well, albeit he now has a 15-game homer-less drought going. Hiroki Uemoto definitely looks more comfortable in the leadoff slot than he did batting second or seventh, as well. Ryutaro Umeno is hitting the ball much better than he did last year, striking out way less frequently and spraying the ball all over the outfield, too. There are a lot of positives the team can carry out of the recent funk.

Once Murton picks up his pace and the team finds a solid center field option (Yamato has struggled mightily, Shunsuke is a decent place holder but not likely the answer, and Hayata Itoh and Taiga Egoshi still need to mature as hitters and especially as fielders), the Tigers should be able to right the ship. Hang on tight, Tigers fans… the wins will start to pile up soon, and not just the ones that start in the second inning like it did for me last night!

Murton – Nihongo Sugoi!

Here’s a fun interview done earlier this month with Matt Murton. I love his answers to the questions. He knows the game well, knows himself well, and knows what he wants out of the upcoming season. He also seems to be picking up on the Japanese language a little, too!

What are your predictions for Mr. Murton this season? Drop a hitting line in the comments section (average, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases)!

Great Tiger Moments 4: August 30, 1973

As the season was heading into its final month and the Tigers fighting to catch the Yomiuri Giants (who had won 8 straight Nippon Series at this point), the Tigers faced the Chunichi Dragons at Koshien Stadium. Young ace Yutaka Enatsu (25) was on the mound, and he pitched a game for the ages. In fact, through nine innings he was holding onto a no-hitter. Unfortunately for him, the nine Tigers hitters (himself included) could not plate a single base runner, and the game went into extra innings. Enatsu trotted out to the mound in the 10th, shut out the Dragons, and sat in the dugout as the home team again got shut out in the bottom half. Once again, the ace mowed down the Dragons, completing an unthinkable 11 innings of no-hit ball.

The bottom of inning saw Enatsu slated to lead off. Pitchers are rarely good hitters, and Enatsu was no exception (he finished the year batting .133). Rather than subbing in a pinch hitter, manager Masayasu Kaneda let him step into the batter’s box. The result:

Unbelievable. After the game, an elated Enatsu was quoted as saying, “I guess one person can win a baseball game on his own!” Truly on this night, he was right. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they finished the year just 0.5 games out of first place, and just 1.0 ahead of third-place Chunichi. The Giants went on to win their ninth straight Nippon Series, but the streak ended the following year when the Chunichi Dragons ousted them, led by manager Wally Yonamine.

2015 Season Preview, Part 4: Relief Pitchers

Our four-part series about the Tigers and the upcoming 2015 season concludes today with a look at the relievers as a whole. Click here for infield analysis, here for the outfield and here for the starting pitchers. The relief squad is a complicated group, as it includes men who might get the occasional spot start, but also sees the most shuffling (between the farm and the top team) during the year. I will list several players and their tendencies and attributes, but this is by no means a thorough look at every hurler on the team. As spring training goes on, more players will stand out while others might fade off. OK, let’s get to it. We start with a look at our closer!

Seung-hwan Oh

ohdeliveryThe Korean veteran closer made his presence felt in Japan. Last season his fastball induced a swinging strike rate of 15.2% while yielding a batting average of .147. Right. Players swung and missed more frequently than they recorded hits off his fastball. That’s almost unheard of! When he did get hit, as is the case with closers, it often cost the team a win, but his saves rate (39 of 46) is still quite high and the team is hoping he will add a sinker or forkball to the repertoire this spring. Having this weapon in his arsenal will only make him stronger and more intimidating to opposing hitters in 2015. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Oh has expressed an interest in testing his skills in the majors in 2016 (and is already being scouted), so this will likely be his final year with the club.

Shinobu Fukuhara

The elder statesman of the club, Fukuhara also pushes his fastball (around 70% of his pitches) more than any other. It is not nearly as effective as Oh’s, but still he managed to hold down the fort most of the time. At 38 years old, the senior should definitely be used more selectively to conserve his energy and keep his numbers down. As can be imagined, he fared much worse when pitching on consecutive days than when given at least a day’s rest. He’s made 50+ appearances in four straight seasons, but that streak will have to come to an end soon, preferably in 2015.

fukuharaandoh

Yuya Andoh

Another longtime veteran, Andoh saw his numbers spike in 2014 much like Fukuhara’s did. His fastball got tagged pretty badly, and he really did not have any one pitch that could get him out of trouble. His strength comes in his control, and he led the league with the lowest “errant pitch” rate (2.5%). Andoh has also thrown in 50+ games several seasons in a row, and at 37, could stand to be used more sparingly as well. Perhaps giving him and Fukuhara alternating turns down in Naruohama would help conserve them both for the postseason.

Kazuya Takamiya

Mostly used as a situational reliever in 2014, but showed his worth by getting the team out of countless jams, especially against lefty hitters. Takamiya made Giants’ cleanup hitter Shinnosuke Abe look plain foolish in the postseason, but also posted a perfect ERA against the Dragons and Carp in the regular season. A good spring will get him more innings and put him in a more prominent role in 2015.

Naoto Tsuru

Tsuru made a few starts last season and was brought in as a reliever as well. It is difficult to know what his role will be in the future, but he needs a strong spring to make himself a more important part of the puzzle.

Ryoma Matsuda

Could Ryoma Matsuda be the closer of the future?

Could Ryoma Matsuda be the closer of the future?

After two injury-plagued seasons, the youngster has vowed to remain healthy in 2015 and bring his A-game. He’s got an overpowering fastball and is not afraid to use it, and he could pick up the bulk of the work that opens up as Fukuhara and Andoh wind down their careers. With a little more experience and success, he could be a candidate to close for the team in 2016.

The Others

Longing for the JFK days...

Longing for the JFK days…

There are a bunch of other names that shall remain just names on this list for the time being. Some played a little last year (Kazuya Tsutsui, Tatsuya Kojima, Kosuke Katoh, Yutaka Tamaki) while others are just trying to make their big league debut (Kojiro Tanabo, Kazuya Itoh, Hiroya Shimamoto, etc.).

Overall Prognosis

I wish I could say the relief is set and that the team’s leads will all be safe, but reality is that this group is quite unstable. We hope Oh will continue to provide rock-solid ninth inning performances and that the old guys have one last good season in them. We hope Matsuda stays healthy and develops into a lights-out set up man or even closer. We hope Takamiya takes on a bigger role and excels as the best lefty reliever on the team. We hope some of the others step up and blossom into great professionals. Unfortunately, all of these things have to work together for the season to be a success. If last season is any indication, fans will be white-knuckled all season long. Here’s to hoping this group develops into a strength.

2015 Season Preview, Part 3: Starting Pitchers

Up next in our four-part series about the Tigers and the upcoming 2015 season is the pitching staff. Click here to see the infield analysis and here for the outfield. The series will wrap up with a look at the intriguing puzzle pieced together with the relievers. OK here we go! The first four starters are set in stone, but who’s got the inside track on the other two slots?

Atsushi Nohmi

"Just have to practice."

“Just have to practice.”

We start by looking at the most experienced member of the starting corps. Last year was largely a forgettable one for the former “staff ace.” At age 35, his best years might be behind him, but his second half numbers from last year (3.07 ERA after June) show that perhaps he’s still got something left in the tank. Last year broke a string of 5 consecutive seasons with an ERA under 2.70, and he barely finished below 4 because of a shaky first half. Entering the first year of a new 3-year contract, Nohmi will look to keep his status as an upper-tier starter for the 2015 Tigers, despite the three pitchers “behind” him having had more success last year.

Randy Messenger

Messenger does an interview with Mr. Kawafuji, whose English is awful. Looks like they had fun, though!

Messenger does an interview with Mr. Kawato, whose English is awful. Looks like they had fun, though!

Since joining the club in 2010, the man has found his groove, getting better with each season. Despite major league offers in the 2013 offseason, Messenger elected to return to the Tigers for three more years. The first year of that contract proved to be his best in Japan, as he racked up a league-high 13 wins and 226 strikeouts while logging 208 ⅓ innings, a team high. While he had a few slip-ups here and there, he came through when needed the most, even going as high as 149 pitches in one outing. In what turned out to be the final game of the season, Big Mess kept the team in the game until his final pitch, his 134th of the game, yielded the lone run. Despite worries of offseason weight gain, this is one workhorse the team can count on for 200+ IP, 200+ K and over a dozen wins. Who knows, he could become the second foreigner ever to win the Eiji Sawamura Award. The other? Tigers legend Gene Bacque (1964).

Minoru Iwata

Minoru Iwata is well known for his charity work in the Kansai area.

Minoru Iwata is well known for his charity work in the Kansai area.

Of the “Big 4” Iwata received the least run support from his mates, and by a long shot. Despite the best ERA among starters (2.54), he also only received an average of 2.89 runs support (per 9 innings), as evidenced by his 9-8 record in 22 starts. (By comparison, Messenger and Nohmi got over 4 runs support and Fujinami got nearly 6!) Still, 2014 was a breakout season for the 31-year old, and his confidence appears to have carried over to this season. His lower body is stronger than before and surely he also wants to prove that he can keep up with the best on this staff. Look for another solid (and perhaps under-appreciated) season from the occasionally bearded one.

Shintaro Fujinami

"It's a player's free choice. If I ever become that good, we can talk about it." -- Fujinami on playing in the majors

“It’s a player’s free choice. If I ever become that good, we can talk about it.”
— Fujinami on playing in the majors

Much coveted out of high school and still just 20 years old, the young phenom has lived up to all the hype but still has room for growth. He became just the second pitcher in team history (after legend Yutaka Enatsu, 1968) to record double digits in wins in his first two years out of high school. He has also drawn favorable comparisons to Texas Ranger ace Yu Darvish, and the numbers after two seasons are quite similar. Furthermore, those same Texas Rangers are said to be scouting Fujinami despite his being 7 years away from free agent eligibility. What makes him great? He’s got a strong fastball (average 151.2 km/h – 94 mph) and six other pitches in his arsenal to back it up. That will leave any batter guessing what is coming. Fujinami did, however, show a disturbing trend in 2014 of allowing too many runs too early (43 in 75 IP in the first three innings of his starts). Whatever the issue, he needs to get his head in the game right from the start. If he does, the sky is the limit for this young man.

The Rest

As many of us know, the Tigers (and much of NPB) tend to use a six-man pitching rotation, occasionally skipping the last man and giving their aces extra starts in key games. The first four spots will almost definitely go to the men mentioned above, but who deserves spots 5 & 6? Let’s look at some of the candidates. If they are not mentioned here, it likely means they will be in the next report on the relievers.

Suguru Iwazaki

The rookie lefty made several starts with the big team last year between stints in Naruohama. He impressed many by recording five wins despite being a sixth-round pick.

Kazuyuki Kaneda

Another very young pitcher who had moments of greatness and other moments of ineptness. He has come on strong so far this spring, but it will take more than that to cement his place in the rotation.

Yuta Iwasada

Last year’s (2013) first round pick started a few games and pitched some relief, but never really found success in either role. His spring is also off to a rocky start, as he gave up 3 ER in 3 IP against the Korean Samsung squad. Scouts also say he needs a lot of work.

Hiroaki Saiuchi

Saiuchi is perhaps better suited to the long relief role, but did start a few games last year. Consistency is a big problem so far in his short career.

Yuya Yokoyama

The team’s #1 pick this year (2014) has started the year slowly, injuring his clavicle joint before training even started, but there is still hope he can contribute at some point. If anything, he may get called up later in the year, and April seems doubtful at this point.

Overall Prognosis

The failed attempt to land free agent Orix ace Chihiro Kaneko leaves a gap in the rotation. The front four should all record double digit win totals, but the rotation after that looks shaky at best. The Tigers really have to hope for some pleasant surprises out of a few young developing players. Who knows, a fifth solid starter could blossom this year! (Other prospects include Takumi Akiyama, Hiroya Shimamoto, Shoya Yamamoto, Daiki Enokida etc.) If not, though, we could see the rotation shortened to five, especially if the race for the pennant is tight.

2015 Season Preview, Part 2: Outfield

Today we continue our four-part series about the Tigers and the upcoming 2015 season. After checking in on the infield last time, we look at the outfield and general offense today. The second half of the series will look at starting pitchers and the relief squad. Alright, let’s finish up the fielders and bats!

Left Field

mattmurtonThis job belongs to none other than Matt Murton. The man just signed a new one-year contract worth a reported ¥450M (~US$3.8M). He has also been the team’s most consistent hitter for years, winning the batting title in 2014 with a .338 average. He has decent plate discipline, middling power and minimal speed. His work in the field is adequate but not spectacular. He is occasionally subbed out for either a defensive or base running replacement late in close games, a strategy that I have yet to see pay dividends. On one occasion, in fact, he was replaced by one of the scrawny speedsters and was unavailable when his last turn in the order came up (in a crucial situation, of course).

Center Field

yamatobuntLast year, save for a spell when he was injured, Yamato took hold of this position. It was actually just the first year he was a registered outfielder, though he has spent nearly every active inning on the big team out there. Let’s start with the positive. The man won a Gold Glove for his incredible fielding work. He was consistent all year, but really drew attention to his prowess in the playoffs, making countless diving catches and gunning down a runner to save a run as well. Now unfortunately for Yamato, his bat did not follow his glove in excellence. His BUNT did, as he led the league with 50 sacrifice bunts. More on this figure/strategy later. In the meantime, Yamato finished the year hitting a mediocre .264, which was actually a much leaner .235 until a September surge (28-for-71). According to an interview in the February Monthly Tigers magazine, Yamato recognizes that he needs to wield a more productive stick. He vows to get on base more, steal more bases and drop down more sacrifice bunts. How he’ll have time to do all that is beyond me, but of course I wish him all the best.

Right Field

Things could get a little interesting here. Aging veteran Kosuke Fukudome holds the post for the time being, and while his numbers show little to justify him getting it back automatically in 2015, he provided plenty of clutch moments down the stretch (particularly against the Carp) and has a keen eye. He also has history on his side. The Tigers love their aging stars who once saw more glorious days. Can Fukudome turn back the hands of time one last time and produce for one more year? His fielding is still quite solid for someone of his age, and there is little chance he will be replaced late in games, unless he is feeling fatigued.

The Up-and-Comers

#3 Draft Pick Taiga Egoshi

#3 Draft Pick Taiga Egoshi

The Tigers have plenty of players who are eager to get more playing time in the outfield. Right out of the gates at this year’s spring training, 2014 3rd pick Taiga Egoshi has impressed fans and coaches alike with his combination of power, speed and work ethic. Could he get some playing time in center this early in his time with the team? The jury is still out, and the preseason is still less than half over. Hayata Itoh has been with the team for a few years and shows some promise to be a starter someday. However, he also has poor discipline at the plate and gives the Koshien faithful headaches with his play in the field. Unless he steps things up this spring (and I have heard no such word myself), he does not appear to be a threat this year. Shunsuke was the main replacement for Yamato last year when the latter injured his obliques. He is, in my opinion, a poor man’s Yamato. Decent fielder, decent speed, no power. None. He does everything Yamato does but just not as well. Veteran Keisuke Kanoh may be used primarily as a pinch hitter, though he could fill in for one of the corner outfielders should the need arise. Shintaro Yokota is another name that is getting some buzz at the camps. He fits more of the power hitter mold, though we have yet to really see if this power translates against the NPB’s best pitchers. Finally, guys like Ryosuke Ogata, Kohei Shibata, Ken’ichi Tagami are still trying to find their niche with the team.

Overall Prognosis

My gut feeling tells me the Tigers are going to roll the same three guys out as last year. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but Yamato and Fukudome need to step up their production. Even if they do, though, the outfield lacks a true slugger that can change the outcome of a game with one swing of the bat. Murton looks to be in great shape and I hope to see him hit at least 20 HRs, but this group as a whole does not inspire too much fear in opposing pitchers.

Hitting Skills

Last season the Tigers got shut out a whopping 14 times (including twice in the playoffs). They also ranked second-to-last in team home runs with 94. The team batting average was .264, good for 3rd out of six Central League teams. They stole 55 bases as a team (dead last), and got caught 37 times. Even the team’s sacrifice bunt total (121) ranked third and its success rate (.801) a disappointing last in the CL. Perhaps the lone bright spot is that our hitters showed better discipline than any other, walking 483 times (1st) and striking out 1,009 times (4th). Only the Dragons and Swallows had better walk-to-strikeout ratios.

Still, the huge underlying problem is run production. Putting up that many bagels is unhealthy for any team’s fate, and even more alarming is the whopping 27 times they managed just a single run in a game (playoffs included). Their record in these games: 3-37-1. Where is the power game? Take Mauro Gomez’s 26 out of the picture and there’s only one other Tiger in double digits (Murton’s 14). Where’s the speed game? Take away Hiroki Uemoto’s 20 and you’ve got fewer than CL leader Takayuki Kajitani (DeNA) stole as an individual (39).

For all the talk of the psychological importance of that first run in a game, the Uemoto lead-off hit/walk followed by the Yamato sacrifice bunt grew really predictable and boring, really quick. Why not let him try to steal second more? (Granted, his success rate was a mere 66.7%.) While reading an interesting book by Masayuki Kakefu (Tigers’ legendary slugger) and Suguru Egawa (Giants’ legendary pitcher), I found something interesting. Egawa said that the sacrifice bunt often gave the pitcher a psychological edge. “Whew, they’re giving me a free out here. I think I can get out of this.” Now, not every pitcher will get out of every jam, but is there statistical proof that a runner on second with one out gives you better odds to score than a runner on first with no outs? I say use the strategy strategically, not mechanically! More hit-and-runs, more stolen base attempts, more attempts to hit the long ball! (Legend Kanemoto was quoted today as telling Egoshi, Yohkawa and Yokota to forget trying to hit .300 and instead try to hit 30 HRs. Amen to that!)

The batting order could also use some shuffling, in my amateur opinion. Matt Murton broke Ichiro’s record for hits in a season in 2010 with 214. He didn’t even lead the league in batting average that year, though it was higher (.349) than this year’s .338. The reason he could do it? He was the leadoff hitter! He got a ton more at bats! If you’re not going to let your leadoff hitter steal second, then you have to get your BEST hitter in there! More hits, more times on base, more chances at runs! Are you telling me Murton can’t reach second on a Yamato sacrifice bunt? Or that he won’t score from second on a Toritani single? I am not suggesting Murton bad lead all year, or that it will solve all their hitting problems. Creativity is the key. Get these players’ skill levels up, and let them play exciting baseball! I look forward to seeing a rejuvenated Tigers lineup this season! Without it, the team cannot possibly hope to replicate the magic of 2003 and 2005, let alone 1985.

Great Tiger Moments 3: April 17, 1985

Other than winning the championship in 1985, this is probably the most talked about moment in Hanshin Tigers history. At this point, the team had a 50 year history and still no championship to speak of. However, it boasted one of its finest hitting lineups ever.

Having started the season on the road, the Tigers were in game two of their first homestand. The opponents: their arch nemesis Yomiuri Giants. Game one featured an interesting come-from-behind victory by the Tigers, but its drama paled in comparison to this one. Down by two runs in the seventh, the team managed to get a two runners aboard for first baseman Randy Bass.

Bass, who had a decent first two years with the team, but who started the season quite cold, was 0-for-2 in this one to this point. Journalists report that before the game, he didn’t even take batting practice. Instead, he watched video footage of his batting stance. And apparently, something clicked, because…

This would be Bass’ first homerun of the season, one in which he hit 54 and went on to win the Triple Crown. Kakefu was already hitting well and obviously took advantage of a shaken pitcher who had just surrendered a late lead. Okada’s blast sent the crowd into hysterics. As the announcers said, “Koshien wa matsuri desu!” Koshien is in festival mode!

As we all know, the team won its first and only championship that October. This day can be said to be the one that sparked the Tigers’ magical ride to glory.

Great Tiger Moments 2: June 26, 1986

I’m reading a book right now called 巨人ー阪神論 (Kyojin-Hanshin Ron — Giants/Tigers Discourse). Basically it’s a guided conversation between 1980s Giants ace Suguru Egawa and 1980s Tigers cleanup hitter Masayuki Kakefu. They discuss everything from their playing days and beyond. Still halfway through but I came across a bit about this moment:

June 26, 1986. Tigers legend Randy Bass has hit home runs in six straight games. One more and he ties the record set by home run king Sadaharu Oh. Korakuen is full and the Giants have their best pitcher in the mound. On this day, he’s not exactly at his best, giving up 5 runs through 7 innings including a bomb to Kakefu. Enter the 8th, score tied up. Egawa looks at the on deck circle. Bass. He’s managed to focus all his energy on the Colonel so far, leaving him hitless in 4 at bats.

This time, Bass sits back in the batter’s box a little more than usual. Egawa sees this and, against his catcher’s call, delivers a heater high and inside. Check the result below:

Hit clear out of the park. Tigers lead 6-5 and hold on to win. Egawa was not told by his manager (guess who? Oh himself) to pitch around Bass, but he had heard whispers throughout the day from press and teammates that he should not let his manager’s record be tied. Still, Egawa says, he couldn’t resist trying to beat the man with his go-to pitch.

The Tigers would finish the year in third but on this night, it looked like 1985 all over again.