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Hanshin Tigers 6 Yomiuri Giants 7

13 July 2010, Koshien Stadium

What a end of season run-in its shaping up to be. Tigers have 2 games over the Giants, and there is a gap of only 0.5 between the teams, Craig Brazell is breaking records left, right and centre in pursuit of the home run crown, and Matt Murton has the best average in the league, with Hirano close behind.

Added to that is a number of extraordinary games against the Yomiuri Giants- a three game whitewash at the end of April when we beat them 4-3, 9-4 and 8-7, and then another two amazing wins – 10-8 and 8-2, in Tokyo 10 days ago. Now its the Tigers turn to host the best rivalry in Japanese baseball, with three crucial games from this morning (UK time). With the gap at 0.5, a win today will put us 1st in the league.

Taking to the mound today is Standridge (5-1, 4.24) for the Tigers, and Tohno (11-2, 2.40) for the Giants. It promises to be a close encounter…

Giants and Tigers traded a single hit each in the first two innings, as both pitchers asserted their ascendency. In the third, however, Kyojin got two hits off Standridge to drive home two runners and put them into a 2-0 lead. Tigers third came at the wrong place in the order, and Asai, Standridge and then Toritani were all out quickly. In the Giants fourth a pinch situation developed with runners on 1st and 2nd and one out- but a double play thankfully ended the innings. In the Tigers fourth, Hirano hit to get on base. Then Murton hit for two runners. Next came Arai- another hit, to left field, and it was 2-1! Next up- Brazell- and a deep and glorious hit to right field, the fielder fumbled and Tigers were in the lead! 3-2!! And still not outs. At 2-3, Johjima looked to be struggling, but Tohno threw a ball, and looked pretty pissed off with himself. So- runners on 1st and 2nd (again), STILL no outs. And Lin hits! Brazell runs home- and gets there! And Johjima to second- he gets there too!! 4-2 Tigers!! Next up Asai – he looks like he has a hit, but its plucked out of the air by Sakamoto. Runners on second and third – and Standridge up – and out. So, two out, and Toritani is up – but he’s caught in the outfield! Ah, so close there, we could’ve done with the extra lead. Anyway, that’s the end of an eventful fourth innings. Kyojin fifth – and dealt with with ease! Tigers fifth – and we’re back to the same line-up as the fourth, having gone through all nine players. Hirano – is caught out. Murton – strike out. Arai – also out. Oh well, no repeat of the fourth. Kyojin sixth – and again there are few problems – Standridge is really starting to show his quality. Hanshin sixth – despite Johjima hitting, he is then out and the innings ends.

So, following a period of intense activity the match has settled down as we enter the crucial end-period. Standridge remains to pitch the Giants seventh. And TYPICALLY, the time I go and make myself a sandwich, Giants score two runs, and it’s 4-4! 😦 Brazell made an error, it seems, and two runners got home. So it’s all to play for. Tigers seventh – and Asai hits to first base! Next up – its Standridge. Bizarre, surely given this situation Mayumi should bring in a pinch hitter, and go to Kubota for the eighth. Standridge has pitched well, but not out-of-this-world well, and it seems odd to lose an out in a crucial situation like this. Hmm. Anyway, Standridge is, of course, out easily. Toritani up – and out. What’s happened to him recently, he’s been useless. Next, Hirano – Asai tries to steal though, and is out. Giant’s eighth. Ramirez – grounds out, Abe – fly out, Chono- hits to first, but the next batter Edgar is out. Tigers eighth- and Yano hits!! But Murton is out, in what should have been a double play but wasn’t. Arai up next- and he hits a high fly to right field, which narrowly evades the fielder’s grasp- runners on first and second! Next up- Brazell! The big man is out…but the runners advance to second and third bases. Time for a pitcher change- Yamaguchi off for Kubo (Giants). This is a real chance to win the game, and it’ll be Kubo vs Johjima. 2 strikes…1 ball…aaah, and he’s out! The chance is gone.

This is heating up. Ninth innings – 4-4. Fujikawa is on for Standridge. The first batter – is hit by pitch! Ouch, that’s gotta hurt coming from Kyuji. Runner on 1st then. A fly hit- and it’s caught! Or is it!? The umpire’s ruled it hit the ground. Replay – wow, that’s close. I just don’t know if I’m honest. Crikey- no outs, runners 1st 2nd. Oh no!! A wild pitch from Kyuji gets a runner to third. This is all going horribly wrong in the 9th 😦 Next batter- a high hit that’s caught. Well, 1 out at least. Next batter- and a heroic strike out!! Brilliant pitching from Kyuji. Two out! One to go. Ogasawara – strike…ball…ball…strike!…and another strike!! Waaa! Fantastic pitching for Kyuji to save a poor situation. Utterly brilliant. So – Tigers ninth. Kanemoto on for Lin, vs Oghi. And he’s out. Hmm. Asai – two out. Next – Hiyama as pinch hitter for Kyuji – out. Grr.

And its into the enchou sen– extra time! Giant’s tenth– 2 outs, runners on 1st and 2nd is where I pick it up after distractions interfere. Kubota pitching- and Ogasawara’s out! So to the Tigers tenth- another chance, with Toritani, Hirano and Murton up! Toritani – is on base!! A hit to left field. Hirano – and a sacrifice bunt – he almost gets to first, but is out, with Toritani on second. Murton up – and he’s walked. Hara kantoku leaves the dugout to have a chat with Oghi, and mix up the Giants fielding. Tiger Arai is up! 1 out, runners on 1st and 2nd…the atmosphere is electric- can the Tigers win it here? 11 hits each by the way. We just need a big hit…Arai…AAAAH! Short, and a double play!! 😦

So, we go to the eleventh. I really can’t justify devoting this much of my day to watching baseball, but this is a war of attrition that I can’t turn away from. Kubota stays for the eleventh. Takahashi- hits. Next guy- but its a double play!!! Naisu!! I really thought the Giants were gonna win then- with the count at 0-3. Phew. Tiger’s eleventh – and its Brazell versus Kroon! Good old horse face Kroon. Wild swings from Brazell though, and it’s one out. Johjima – flies out. Yamato- also out, a deep fly out.

The final innings- the twelfth. Nishimura is up for Kubota. Ogasawara- hits to the right! Next- sacrifice bunt, and runner on second. Chono is up- and he’s being walked deliberately. Chono- home run!! 7-4 to the Giants, and it’s all gone horribly, horribly wrong in the twelfth. The gap will be back to 1.5, and the Tigers will have to win both remaining games to take an overall lead in the Central League. Tigers twelfth – surely we don’t have enough left to recover a 3 run deficit. Asai gets on base though- and then steals to second. Sekimoto up – and out. Toritani- and a home run!?! 7-6 Giants. Wow, now THAT was unexpected, but we’re still one run behind. What a game this has been – these Tigers-Giants match ups never, ever, disappoint. Hirano – is out! He dives at first base but isn’t quick enough. Crikey. Matt Murton up – two out, no runners on base, 7-6. A fly hit- and caught! Game over.

Giants win 7-6 in an epic, but ultimately disappointing encounter.