Series Recap – July 20-22, 2015

For the Central League, the All-Star Break may as well have been the offseason, and the remaining games a full season. The gap between all the teams was a mere 5 games (including 4 teams within a single game of first). To make things even more spring-like, no team was above .500! With fewer than 60 games left on tap, the importance of each matchup has become that much greater. The Tigers spend 9 of their first 11 games at Koshien Stadium before taking their annual “Road Trip of Death” in August while the high school national tournament is played on their home turf. The first series was against their longtime rivals, the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants.

Murton made a fine play in left field, butt... at the plate he was unable to capitalize on two big chances.

Murton made a fine play in left field, butt… at the plate he was unable to capitalize on two big chances.

Game 1: Facing Miles Mikolas for the second time this month, the team hoped to have more success than last time, when they fell 4-2. This time the ball was in the hands of Minoru Iwata, and he kept the game close for six innings, allowing just one run. That came after a booted grounder by third baseman Ryota Imanari (no error was charged to him on the play) in the first. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the Giants’ American import brought his A game and the team once again failed to give their pitcher any run support. In the ninth on a pop foul to first, Mauro Gomez dropped the ball (this one was called an error) and the Giants batter took full advantage of the second chance given to him, driving a Kazuya Takamiya slider over the right center wall. Final Score: Giants 2, Tigers 0.

The Americans delivered big-time on Tuesday: 8 shutout innings from Messenger and 2 RBIs from Murton.

The Americans delivered big-time on Tuesday: 8 shutout innings from Messenger and 2 RBIs from Murton.

Game 2: As the victim of poor run support in three straight July starts, Randy Messenger did what he needed to do to make sure he didn’t need much in this one. The rejuvenated righty hung in for 8 innings, avoiding a dangerous situation in the opening frame and shutting the Giants down completely on 129 pitches. As for the bats, they took their time warming up. It wasn’t until the sixth inning with two outs that the 25-inning scoreless drought ended. Matt Murton high a towering shot to left that was not far from either clearing the fence or landing in the fielder’s outstretched glove. It did neither, but cashed in two runners instead. The game got a little dramatic when Seung-hwan Oh came in to close things down. He surrendered a hit, allowed a stolen base, then gave up another hit, and a run scored. With one out to go, the winning run came to the plate. Fortunately, it was not the Giants’ day, and Messenger was able to pick up his first win since the game after Interleague play ended. Final Score: Tigers 2, Giants 1.

It wasn't the deepest hit of the night but it certainly was the most important. Ryota cleared the bases in the opening inning.

It wasn’t the deepest hit of the night but it certainly was the most important. Ryota cleared the bases in the opening inning.

Game 3: Atsushi Nohmi looked great right out of the gates in this one, needing just 23 pitches to get the first 8 outs. Then a “hit” (should have been an error to Takashi Toritani) caused him to labor the next three innings, but he managed to hold the Giants to just a single run in his six innings of work. For their part, the Tigers got on the board in the first, thanks to a Ryota Arai bases-clearing double. Rookie outfielder Taiga Egoshi extended the lead back to three runs in the sixth with a solo home run, his second on the year. Reliever Yuya Andoh allowed a solo home run in the seventh to bring the lead back down to two. Oh closed the game off with a rare clean inning. Final Score: Tigers 4, Giants 2.

Series Notes: Egoshi got recalled and started the last two games of the series, going 0-3 with 2 strikeouts Tuesday and 2-4 Wednesday. He is still hitting just .122 (6-49) on the year in his limited action. However, of his six hits, two have been home runs and one was a triple that was just centimeters from being another homer… Toritani continues to struggle in the field, collecting his 7th error of the year on Tuesday, failing to catch a first inning infield pop-up. He had just 5 errors all of last season… This was the second series of the year that the Tigers took from the Giants. The other came just before interleague play began, and was also played at Koshien. On the year, they are still just 7-10 against their nemeses. Here are the standings as of the end of play on Wednesday:

15-7-22 Standings

Series Recap – July 10-12, 2015

夢はつぶれる、未来はつぶれる ぼくとわたしの大きな夢は いつもの負けで いつもの阪神… 阪神!

Yume wa tsubureru, mirai wa tsubureru   Boku to watashi no o-kina yume wa  Itsumo no make de, itsumo no Hanshin… HANSHIN!

(My dreams have been squashed, my future is squashed. Your big dreams and mine, always losers, always Hanshin… HANSHIN!)

Coming into this series, the boys were rocking a 3-6 record since June 30 and were riding a 4-game losing streak at Tokyo Dome. Let’s look quickly at how this series against the hated Giants went down.

“We might actually come back and win this one!”
“Nah, you’re just pulling my leg aren’t you?”

Game 1: The game started off well enough, with Kosuke Fukudome brought Shunsuke home on a sacrifice fly in the first, giving starter Randy Messenger a one-run lead before he threw a single pitch. Unfortunately that lead disappeared in the second with the Giants putting up a two-spot, and the lead further increased with two more runs in the sixth. Messenger ended the night giving up six hits, six walks and striking out five in six innings of work. The Tigers scored one more in the seventh on a Kentaro Sekimoto grounder. No RBI hits in this game for the Tigers. Final Score: Giants 4, Tigers 2.

Fujinami couldn't get his leg up on the competition in this one. A rare bad outing from the team's

Fujinami couldn’t get his leg up on the competition in this one. A rare bad outing from the team’s “future ace.”

Game 2: This team just has a knack for losing by huge margins. Starter Shintaro Fujinami followed yesterday’s 8-walk game with 7 (if you count hit batsmen) of his own in 5 2/3 innings, as he gave up a season-worst 7 runs and struck out five. He allowed 14 guys to reach base, and Ryoma Matsuda got tagged badly as well, resulting in a brutal loss yet again. The lone bright spot was Fukudome’s solo blast to deep right in the 4th inning when the game was still close. Matt Murton‘s sacrifice fly RBI in the sixth gave the team a little hope, but that was dashed in the bottom of the inning. Final Damage: Giants 11, Tigers 2.

How this guy's got that much spring in his legs, I have no idea. Fukudome lays out to make a key out in the ninth inning.

How this guy’s got that much spring in his legs, I have no idea. Fukudome lays out to make a key out in the ninth inning.

Game 3: To avoid the sweep, Minoru Iwata would have to be at his best, as the Giants brought their ace (Tomoyuki Sugano) to the mound. Our lefty was going on 4 days’ rest for the first time all year, and while he pitched well against the Dragons on Tuesday, he was pretty awful in his three starts before that. But he held in strong against the surging Evil Empire, allowing just 1 run in five innings. For their part, the Tigers got on the scoreboard first in this one, with Fukudome recording an RBI in his third straight. The game remained tied until the eighth, when the visitors got the better of Canadian reliever Scott Mathieson. A Murton double was followed by four straight hits/walks, then a sacrifice fly. Another 9th inning home run allowed by closer Seung-hwan Oh put everyone on the edge of their seats to end this one, but the Tigers held on. Final Score: Tigers 4, Giants 2.

Here are the standings after all the action on Sunday.

15-7-12 Standings

The Tigers have just two more games before the All-Star Game: a two-game home stand against the Carp. I’ll be at one of them and look forward to the team being over .500 heading into the break. GO TIGERS!

Book Review – Slugging it Out in Japan

sluggingTo purchase and read this book, I had to put away my dislike of the Yomiuri Giants. After all, the subject and co-author starred for them during the most interesting years of my Hanshin Tigers’ history. He was a perfect foil to then-star Tiger Randy Bass, who enamored the fanatics at Koshien from the time he arrived in Japan.

Contrary to Ba-su sama, Warren Cromartie spent many turbulent, inconsistent years with the club before he finally accepted his fate and position within the team, thriving at last only when he started to genuinely like Japan. While other Robert Whiting (co-author) books are chalk full of anecdotes about the lives of several players, this one focuses exclusively on the man they called ‘Cro. This allows for a much deeper, personal and gripping read than the others Whiting penned, which technically could be enjoyed a chapter at a time, and put away for weeks or months without fear of breaking the flow of the story.

Cromartie was born and raised in Miami Beach, Florida. His rough childhood seems to have shaped his stoic, rebellious demeanor right through to this day. He played several years in the Montreal Expos organization before taking up the Yomiuri Giants on their generous offer, but only after the Expos shafted him and the American (SF) Giants reneged on an offer they had informally made him.

This book takes us through Cromartie’s dislike of camp, struggles with living arrangements, disgust with Korakuen Stadium locker rooms, beefs with coaches and teammates (he particularly mocks then-pretty boy Tatsunori Hara), and his love and respect for Sadaharu Oh, who actually gave him private hitting lessons when he was struggling early on. It also opens many readers’ eyes to the racism he faced as a black man in Tokyo as well as on a team whose ownership and upper management refused to acknowledge his contributions to championship teams.

It also pointed out to me that Cro was (is?) a skilled musician who had a band in Japan, appeared on TV, and even practiced drums and recorded an album while sitting out an injury late in his Japanese baseball career.

Most of all, reading this book endeared me to this fireball of a man, who holds back no punches (literally), criticizing even himself at times. It gave me a clearer look into what American baseball players in Japan experienced and thought back in the 80s. I recommend this book to everyone, even my fellow Tigers fans. Trust me, there’s lots of good in this book, and Randy Bass makes a few appearances as well.

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Book Review – Kyojin-Hanshin Discourse

kyojinhanshinron

If only there were more books like this. If only I had been a fan of Japanese baseball when these two faced each other. If only I had had time to actually finish reading the book! (It was a loaner from the library, and I will take it out again after I’ve read a handful of other books on my list.)

Kyojin-Hanshin Discourse is simply a guided discussion between two longtime rivals and legends of their respective teams. Giants’ ace Suguru Egawa (1979-1987) and Tigers’ cleanup hitter Masayuki Kakefu (1974-1988) sit down and talk about a great variety of topics, including the circumstances surrounding their respective drafting experience (quite different from one another), first appearances on their teams, major accomplishments, personal showdowns, retirements, post-retirement years, and what they would do if they were managers of their respective teams. Of course, the thread that ties the whole thing together is the great tradition that both teams have, and the differing philosophies that make them so endearing to generations of fans.

egawakakefuThis book is written in such a way that the players talk mostly uninterrupted about their playing days, memories of each other, and so on. An interviewer (facilitator?) occasionally breaks the dialogue up with a question, correction or change of topic. Otherwise, it feels as though you got to sit down at the booth right behind two great baseball players (and friends?) at a family restaurant as they talked about baseball. Who could ask for anything more?

I can honestly say that this book has helped inspire me to learn more about the history of this game, particularly of these two teams, and of course mostly of the Hanshin Tigers. I’d love to read a similar book between other rivals or even teammates. Suggestions include: Yutaka Enatsu and Sadaharu Oh, Akinobu Okada and Tatsunori Hara, Randy Bass and Warren Cromartie. Got any others you’d like to read about? (I personally want to write one of these with Gene Bacque!)

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Series Recap – May 19-21, 2015

Every time the Yomiuri Giants come to town this season, the Tigers are offering some kind of special at Koshien Stadium. In celebration of the team’s 80th year, they are paying homage to all the magical moments between the two clubs, dubbing the series “Legends Day.” The question is, are the Tigers still producing legendary players? Would this series give birth to any legendary moments that will be talked about 20 years from now when the team celebrates its centennial? Let’s look at what went down these last three days!

This one did not go well for Iwata and the Tigers. Three straight innings giving up runs took the wind out their sails. They would go on to lose 8-0.

This one did not go well for Iwata and the Tigers. Three straight innings giving up runs took the wind out their sails. They would go on to lose 8-0.

Game 1: Two strong pitchers took the mound in this one, but only one would be left standing at the end. The other failed to make it through the fifth for the first time all year. Minoru Iwata got taken deep by Giants’ catcher Shinnosuke Abe in the second, and although that was all the offense the Giants would need on this night, they kept adding more. Three more came in the third after a rare Takashi Toritani error, one more in the fourth and two more off reliever Kentaro Kuwahara in the sixth. The Tigers, for their part, mustered just 4 hits (two of them doubles, mind you) but got nothing to show for it, as the Giants cruised to victory in this one, extending the Tigers’ losing streak to three. The  lineup shuffle did no good, as Matt Murton was unable to get things going from the leadoff spot, though Kosuke Fukudome got two hits in his return to the five-hole. Final Score: Giants 8, Tigers 0.

Shintaro Fujinami is starting to show his potential, going the distance for the third time in four starts.

Shintaro Fujinami is starting to show his potential, going the distance for the third time in four starts.

Game 2: The Tigers desperately needed to right the ship, so manager Wada once again shuffled the hitting order, even changing out one of his regulars. Toritani led off, Murton hit third (something I had long been waiting to see) and Fumiya Araki replaced Hiroki Uemoto at second base. Despite the changes, the Tigers still did not generate much offense. Murton led the way with three hits, and the lone Tigers run came in the sixth as Mauro Gomez singled to left, driving in Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The opportunity for more runs was there, with runners on first and second and no one out, but two strikeouts and a grounder later, the inning was over. Again the chance for insurance runs presented itself in the eighth, as Nishioka reached on an error, Murton singled and Uemoto pinch-ran and stole second. With runners on second and third and no one out, the chance to score was golden. However, Canadian reliever Scott Mathieson struck out Gomez, and after walking Fukudome, also rang up Yamato and induced an inning-ending pop fly to Kentaro Sekimoto. The story in this one, though, was hero Shintaro Fujinami, who pitched his first career complete game shutout. He allowed just two hits while striking out 10, throwing 137 pitches. He has now thrown complete games in 3 of his last 4 outings dating back to a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in Tokyo against these same Giants at the start of the month. Final Score: Tigers 1, Giants 0.

Rookie Yuya Yokoyama pitched well, going 7 innings and allowing just 6 hits and 1 run. He did not factor into the decision.

Rookie Yuya Yokoyama pitched well, going 7 innings and allowing just 6 hits and 1 run. He did not factor into the decision.

Game 3: Rookie Yuya Yokoyama made is grand debut with the hopes of helping his team to a second straight win and a first series win against their longtime rivals. The Giants had a strong first-year pitcher of their own on the mound, and the game was scoreless through five quick innings. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Yokoyama finally surrendered a run in the sixth after back-to-back doubles, and the Tigers still had just one hit through seven innings when our pitcher left the mound. In line for the loss, he could only sit and watch from the dugout. Kazuya Takamiya held fort in the eighth, and in the home half, finally something happened for the good guys. A leadoff Fukudome single chased their starter, and after another brilliant strategic sacrifice bunt by pinch bunter Shunsuke, a walk to Sekimoto (starting to sound familiar?), Keisuke Kanoh came to the plate. Last series, this same scenario occurred and the inning ended on a double play. This time, though, the small-ball approach actually worked, as Kanoh got plunked, Ryota Arai hit a sacrifice fly to bring the tying run home, and with runners on the corners, stone-cold Toritani came to the plate. He had struck out in his first three at bats, something very uncharacteristic of him. He made everything alright, though, with a scorching single to right, and the Tigers had the lead! Naturally, closer Seung-hwan Oh made things interesting, giving up two hits between outs, and with one man to go, there were runners on second and third. A called third strike ended the game, gave the Tigers their first series win against the Giants this year, and sent the balloons flying. Final Score: Tigers 2, Giants 1.

15-5-21 Standings

Series Notes: With an errant throw in the seventh inning of Game 1, Uemoto committed his NPB-worst 7th error on the year. “I’ll do better from now on,” he said… Fujinami leads all NPB pitchers with 4 complete games this season. His previous high was two in his sophomore season (last year). The young phenom is now 3-4 on the season with a sparkling 2.43 ERA… With the two wins to end the series, the Tigers have now gone an entire month either winning or losing in 2+ game chunks. Since April 22, their streaks have gone: 2L, 4W, 3L, 2W, 3L, 3W, 3L, 2W. Total: 11 wins, 11 losses… Before his game-winning hit, Toritani was hitless in his previous 12 at-bats and his average was down to .223 on the year… Since reaching double figures in hits in two straight games, the Tigers have gone 31-for-176 in 6 games (.176 average), scoring just 6 runs. Though they are 3-3 in those games, clearly the bats need to wake up if they are going to make a push for the playoffs… Just one series to go until the interleague portion of the schedule starts next Tuesday – a trip to Yokohama to face the league-leading Baystars. Projected starting pitchers: Mario Santiago, Atsushi Nohmi, Yuta Iwasada.

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!

Series Recap – April 3-5, 2015

It just wasn't Tsuyoshi Ishizaki's night. The reliever allowed 5 runs to score as the Giants pounded the Tigers 9-5 on Saturday night.

It just wasn’t Tsuyoshi Ishizaki’s night. The reliever allowed 5 runs to score as the Giants pounded the Tigers 9-5 on Saturday night.

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.

15-4-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:

15-4-5 Standings

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.

Tigers 4, Giants 2 – The Rant

umenogiantshero

Catcher Ryutaro Umeno came through in the clutch, delivering RBI hits two times for three RBIs on the night.

The Hanshin Tigers opened their season series with the Yomiuri Giants last night on a winning note, outlasting the home team 4-2 in front of a boisterous crowd at Tokyo Dome. The game featured a solid start from Randy Messenger (8IP, 2ER), a four-hit night from Tsuyoshi Nishioka and 3 RBIs from Ryutaro Umeno. These three men aside, the night was mostly a lot of nerve-wrecking for fans. And now folks, for the first time ever (here), a scathing report on the Tigers!

uemoto2015magazineuemoto2015magazine2Takashi Toritani had his usual night – two hits, solid fielding. Unfortunately for him, the man behind him, Hiroki Uemoto, looked completely hopeless at the plate. Failed sacrifice bunt attempts, two strikeouts, no real good contact has left him hitting .160 on the year (4-for-25). He also looks quite tentative in the field, where he has vowed to cut down on his league-high 17 errors from last year. To boot, he was featured on the cover of the last two Tigers magazines (fan club and monthly digest) but produced very uninteresting, bland interviews. I try to find reasons to cheer for you, little pipsqueak of a man, but you’re giving me NOTHING!

gomezstrikeoutlowThe two foreigners from last year who carried the team when no one else would, well, they are really struggling in the early going. Mauro Gomez continues to show us what this generation’s Joe Carter looks like, chasing after countless low and outside offspeed pitches and striking out like it’s going out of style. Matt Murton has had a few clutch hits this season but in the past two games has not really hit anything very far. Yesterday featured a grounder to pitcher, one to third, a pop-up to second and another grounder to short. His .214 average so far is not inspiring much fear in anyone.

Kosuke Fukudome is another guy who has had clutch hits and even made a couple of nice plays in the field, but also has made a few blunders as well. Despite a home run and 4 RBIs he is hitting just .250 on the year so far. He’s also not exactly inspiring confidence in his pitchers or coaching staff by giving extra bases to runners with sub-par fielding.

Yamato whiffs on a failed squeeze play attempt in the eighth inning of last night's game.

Yamato whiffs on a failed squeeze play attempt in the eighth inning of last night’s game.

Then there’s Yamato. Already a fringe player despite winning a Golden Glove award last season, his hitting has been pathetic this year, and last night pushed him one step closer to a place on the bench. His failure to bring home the runner on third base TWICE (a shallow infield grounder followed by a whiffed bunt on a squeeze play attempt) kept the game closer and tenser than it should have been. (Murton committed  similar foul earlier in the game as well.) Manager Wada even called him out on it in a post-game interview. Perhaps it’s time for rookie Taiga Egoshi to get a start in tonight’s game.

Finally closer Seung-hwan Oh had a clean inning, his first in five attempts this season! The game ended with a victory but poor execution and slumps from key players mean that the Tigers’ luck will not continue for long at this rate. Also, despite some attempts at aggressiveness (Nishioka’s stolen base attempt in the first inning comes to mind), calling on Umeno to bunt Fukudome over to third with no outs in the sixth was a poor decision. Basically one of your hottest hitters of the night purposely gets an out so that the pitcher can face Yamato and Messenger? Foolishness! Not sure what Wada was thinking there! Same with the squeeze play in the eighth!

I hope the team can play sound fundamental baseball tonight and tomorrow, as the team attempts to even further delay the Giants’ 1000th victory against the Tigers. The series sits at Giants 999, Tigers 778 and 67 ties.

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.