The Hanshin Tigers are kind of a fun team. My favorites are teams where I get to interact with the players the most, the Seibu Lions, and the club I’ve followed the longest, the Yakult Swallows. But that being said, there have been seasons, when the Tigers have just been an incredibly fun team.
1985 was one of those years, when they won their only Japan Series championship behind a quartet of power hitters led by Randy Bass. 1992 was another year, when Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Tsutomu Kameyama were burning up the base paths and catching EVERYTHING in the outfield and they came oh so close to the pennant.
They might not be my favorites this year, but damn they’re fun, and Tuesday’s game against the SoftBank Hawks was a great example. OK, so the manager may have made a questionable call keeping his starter in the game to pitch the ninth, but it sure was entertaining.
Tigers 2, Hawks 2, 12 innings
At Yafuoku Dome, Tigers manager Akihiro Yano wanted to stay in the game and get his second complete-game victory of the season rather than bring in his closer, and Randy Messenger let in the tying run after eight dominant innings, as Hanshin and SoftBank played to a 2-2, 12 inning tie.
Messenger, whose fastball, curve and split were all on, allowed two runs on four hits and a walk, while striking out six over nine innings.
The Tigers opened the scoring in the fourth after a leadoff walk and a bunt base hit set the table against Ariel Miranda. Kosuke Fukudome opened with a walk, and catcher Ryutaro Umeno, one of Japan’s most entertaining players bunted his way on.
An RBI single from Shun Takayama, a former first-round pick who had been in the doghouse under former manager Tomoaki Kanemoto. Takayama has been making a comeback under new skipper Akihiro Yano, who knows about the youngster’s struggles after managing the Tigers’ minor league team. With Fukudome unable to play in the outfield since hurting his calf on May 1, Takayama’s been making the most of his chance.
Fumiya Hojo, another Yano reclamation project, scored Umeno from third on a suicide squeeze.
The Hawks halved the lead on the second pitch in the bottom of the inning, when light-hitting utility outfielder Shuhei Fukuda turned on an inside fastball for a leadoff homer. Fukuda is not an extreme representative of his class, the slight, left-handed hitter who will slap 100 balls foul to the third base side for every one he tries to pull, but it was his 18th home run, in his 1,059th career plate appearance.
With 95 pitches under his belt through eight, Messenger stayed on the mound for the ninth, while closer Rafael Dolis cooled his heels. After a single and a sacrifice, Kenta Imamiya singled to left to tie it up.
Dolis finally made his entry in the 12th, when his job was to keep the game tied — the Tigers best-possible outcome at that stage. After a Yurisbel Gracial infield single opened the door, Dolis put the winning run on third. A wild pickoff throw sent pinch runner Hikaru Kawase to second, and a wild pitch moved him to third with no outs.
But Dolis bailed himself out of jail with a strikeout, a tailor-made groundout to his drawn-in infield and a soft-liner hit straight to an outfielder, and the Tigers could celeberate not losing, which is kind of the point of playing in Japan.
Lions 4, Giants 0
At MetLife Dome, Yasuo Sano filled in after scheduled starter Tatsuya Imai came down with a fever and allowed two base runners over four innings. Kyle Martin (2-3) got out of jail with four strikeouts over three innings and a solid play at the wall by left fielder Yuji Kaneko that diffused a potential big inning in the seventh.
“Big plays on defense behind me, a big play by Kaneko in left,” said Martin, who went back out for the seventh with a 4-0 lead and hit the first batter.
Kaneko recorded the first out before a double put two in scoring position with one out, but the big right-hander struck out both.
The Lions opened the scoring in the first inning on two singles off Nobutaka Imamura (1-1) and an error on center fielder Yoshihiro Maru. Takeya Nakamura’s RBI double and Ernesto Mejia’s two-run single added three more runs in the sixth.
Eagles 3, Swallows 1
At Koriyama, Takahiro Shiomi (3-0), whom Yakult tried to draft in 2010, got his first career win against the Swallows, allowing a run in seven innings. The lefty has now made four straight solid starts since coming back from lower back surgery last year.
Jabari Blash went 2-for-3 with a double, a two-run single and a walk to give the Eagles the lead against Juri Hara (3-6).
After the Eagles and Swallows both lost draft lotteries over their first choices in 2010, they both selected Shiomi as their alternate, but the Swallows lost again. Yakult’s second alternate was also named by another team, but the Swallows won infielder Tetsuto Yamada to snag the player who has turned out to be the best in his draft class.
Yamada, the Central League’s 2015 MVP, accounted for Yakult’s only run on a sixth-inning homer off Shiomi.
Alan Busenitz loaded the bases in a scoreless eighth for the Eagles, and Yuki Matsui saved his 20th with a 1-2-3 ninth.
BayStars 6, Marines 3
At Zozo Marine Stadium, DeNA sent nine batters to the plate in a four-run sixth inning to overturn a 3-2 deficit and knock out Hideaki Wakui (3-4) in a win over Lotte.
BayStars pitchers walked five batters, but all three of the Marines runs came on journeyman Ryo Miki’s fourth career home run, off DeNA starter Haruhiro Hamaguchi (3-3), who worked six innings to get the win.
Fighters 5, Carp 4
At Sapporo Dome, Nippon Ham knocked Hiroshima starter Yusuke Nomura (3-3) out of the game after a five-run, six-hit, one-walk first inning.
The three-time defending CL champions didn’t get the tying run on base until Seiya Suzuki walked with one out in the eighth after Xavier Batista’s 18th home run of the season completed the scoring.
Naoyuki Uwasawa (5-2) struck out seven and allowed two runs, one earned, over seven innings to earn the win. Naoya Ishikawa recorded the save after the club deactivated closer Ryo Akiyoshi with a muscle injury earlier in the day.
Dragons 2, Buffaloes 1
At Kyocera Dome, reliever Taisuke Kondo walked a batter, moved him into scoring position with a wild pitch and then surrendered a tie-breaking, eighth-inning run on a Yohei Oshima single as Orix wasted seven good innings from Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
The right-hander allowed four hits and a walk, while striking out six, but the Buffaloes, the only NPB team without 200 runs this season, could only manage one run. And that tying run, was partly a gift. After a one-out triple by Keita Nakagawa, an intentional walk and two unintentional ones pushed home the Buffaloes’ only run.
After that walk, Dragons pitchers retired the final 10 Buffaloes hitters, with Dominican lefty Joely Rodriguez pitching the eighth and 22-year-old Cuban Raidel Martinez earning his first save in Japan.
Fujinami dealing on farm
Shintaro Fujinami took a big step toward returning to the Hanshin Tigers’ first team on Tuesday with three scoreless innings in a Western League game against Orix.
A an elite pitching prospect coming out of high school to rival Shohei Ohtani, Fujinami has fallen on hard times since 2016.
Fujinami had moderate success in his first three seasons, going 35-21 with little muscle to speak of on hi 1.97-meter frame. In 2016, he was 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA on July 7 under first-year manager Tomaki Kanemoto. The following day, the Hiroshima Carp were beating the youngster’s brains out at Koshien Stadium, and Kanemoto left Fujinami out on the mound, he told reporters afterword, “to teach him a lesson.”
Fujinami finished that game with a 2.84 career ERA and a 39-26 career record. Since he has pitched in 35 games over about 2-1/2 full seasons, going 9-14 with 4.58 ERA. His strikeouts per nine innings and his strikeout-to-walk ratio both dipped precipitously after that.
This spring on March 12, Tigers manager Akihiro Yano sent the right-hander down after he walked three and hit a batter over four innings.
Side-arm right-hander Ryo Aikiyoshi, who has stepped into the Nippon Ham Fighters’ closer role since being traded from the Yakult Swallows over the winter, is expected to miss 1-1/2 months with an extensor muscle strain in his right thigh.
The 30-year-old, who has seen duty with Japan’s national team, has pitched in 26 games. He has a 1.69 ERA, an 0-2 record, 12 saves and five holds.
Hiroshi Urano, who has seven career saves, all last seasons, is expected to take over the closer’s duties until Akiyoshi is ready to return.