It has been eighteen years in the making, but the Hanshin Tigers have at long last clinched a finish atop the Central League standings in 2023. Their last pennant (in 2005) also came under current manager Akinobu Okada, but this time he is 65 years old and had been away from the field for over a decade. Let’s look at the game in which the Tigers locked up the CL, plus the games that the first JapanBall tour (in Japan) in four years (!) took in over the past week.
The Tigers entered Thursday night’s action on a 10-game winning streak, which was their second of the season. The club had not had an 11-game win streak since the 1982 season, but this time they had much riding on this match. With a magic number of one, they could clinch at Koshien Stadium against their arch-rivals, the Yomiuri Giants, with a win. Had they lost (the second-place Hiroshima Carp would ultimately win on this night), they would have likely clinched the pennant on the road against those Carp.
Twenty-four-year-old righty Hiroto Saiki was on the bump to start the game, and he struck out two batters in the first inning. The Tigers’ bats created a few good chances early on – runners on the corners with one out in the first, bases loaded with no outs in the fourth – but came away with nothing. The scoreless tie did not break until the sixth, when Yusuke Ohyama hit a sacrifice fly and Teruaki Sato followed that up with a two-run home run to dead center. Cutting to the chase, the Giants made a game of it, pulling to within one, and advancing the game-tying run to third base in the top of the ninth. But Tigers closer Suguru Iwazaki induced an infield fly to the last batter of the game, giving the Tigers a 4-3 win and their sixth CL pennant.
They did it with fifteen games left on the schedule, and now have a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Their next meaningful game will be played at Koshien Stadium on October 18, when they host the winner of the first round of the Climax Series.
And now, for a look at the games attended by the lucky folks on the JapanBall tour! Please check our socials (especially Instagram) for pics and brief reports.
Tuesday, September 12: Chunichi Dragons @ Yokohama DeNA Baystars
Crafty veteran Dragons’ starter Hideaki Wakui threw six strong innings (two hits, no runs) at the bats provided two home runs (Takaya Ishikawa in the sixth, Dayan Viciedo in the ninth) as the visitors took the game, 3-1.
Wednesday, September 13: Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles @ Chiba Lotte Marines
Down a run in the fifth, Ryosuke Tatsumi of the Eagles evened the score with a solo home run. Two innings later, the Eagles took the lead, though the Marines evened it in the home half of the eighth. In the game’s final inning, both teams scored, but it was the Eagles’ three (two on a bases-loaded double, another on an error) gave the road team another win, this one by a 5-3 count.
Thursday, September 14: Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks @ Saitama Seibu Lions
The home team used four hits and a sac fly in the bottom of the second to take a 3-0 lead. From there, they never relinquished, despite a two-run fourth inning from the Hawks. Young righty Tatsuya Imai earned the 4-2 win, striking out eight (while walking five) in seven innings of work.
Friday, September 15: Baystars @ Tokyo Yakult Swallows
The teams exchanged runs in the first two frames, but the difference came in the latter innings, as Baystars’ sluggers Neftali Soto and Toshiro Miyazaki each hit solo bombs (in the fifth and ninth, respectively) to give the visitors a 3-1 victory. Kentaro Taira threw seven innings of one-run ball for the W.
Sunday, September 17: Hiroshima Carp @ Chunichi Dragons
Once again, it was the visitors that got the W, as righty Aren Kuri threw seven shutout innings. His fielders scored him a pair of runs in the sixth, and then added an insurance run in the final frame, giving the Carp a comfortable 3-0 win. It was the Dragons’ 23rd shutout loss of the year.
Monday, September 18: Baystars @ Tigers
The game was scoreless through five innings, but the Baystars drew first blood in the sixth. The Tigers evened it up an inning later, and the game went to extras. Slugger Shugo Maki hit a 2-RBI triple for the visitors, and although Tigers’ cleanup hitter Yusuke Ohyama bopped a solo home run in the bottom of the tenth, it was too little, too late. Baystars win, 3-2.
The road team seems to have the upper hand on this trip so far, going 5-1 so far! Favorite team biases aside, let’s root for the home teams to win a little more moving forward, as it is a satisfying experience seeing the crowd cheer, stay late, and listen to the hero interview, too. Have a great week, everyone!
For standings and leaderboards, check these links: