Tsuyoshi Nishioka was at the plate in the sixth inning with his team leading 4-2 and runners on second and third, when the Yomiuri Giants’ Yoshiyuki Kamei trotted in from left field to serve as a fifth infielder, setting up camp between shortstop and third base.
In the outfield, center fielder Tetsuya Matsumoto shifted a bit to his left as Tigers fans loudly voiced their disapproval at the scene unfolding on the field.
After all the moving and shaking was done, Nishioka promptly drove in both runners with a hit to the spot Matsumoto had just vacated.
This is what it’s been like to be the Hanshin Tigers the last few days.
Nishioka had a triumphant return to the scene of his scary collision earlier in the season, Mauro Gomez homered and drove in three runs, and the Tigers won their eighth straight game by beating the Giants 12-5 on Friday night at Tokyo Dome in front of a crowd of 43,329.
“The Giants had a defensive lineup that was strange,” Nishioka said of his hit in the sixth. “I tried to hit the ball out of the infield and luckily placed it perfectly.”
Hanshin has been on a roll lately. The Tigers have won all eight games they’ve played this month, last losing on June 29.
“I think the biggest thing is that when you get on a roll like that, everyone relaxes a little bit,” said Tigers outfielder Matt Murton. “Guys are enjoying being at the ballpark a little bit more. Right now some things are going our way, so it’s just one day at a time.”
The latest victory helped send Hanshin past the Hiroshima Carp and into second place in the Central League behind the Giants, who lead the CL by 3 1/2 games.
“Our team is playing great right now,” Nishioka said. “We’ve got a way to go before we catch the Giants, but we’ll try our best.”
Nishioka was back at Tokyo Dome for the first time since March 30, when he had a violent collision with outfielder Kosuke Fukudome while chasing a fly ball hit by Kan Otake. Both players were shaken up, but Nishioka clearly got the worst of it, eventually having to be taken off in an ambulance that had been brought onto the field. He suffered a broken nose and fractured ribs, among other injuries, in the accident.
“I have to thank the Hanshin fans and the Giants fans who cheered for me that day after I was injured,” Nishioka said.
The Tigers gave starting pitcher Randy Messenger plenty of support besides the two runs Nishioka helped put on the board.
Gomez was 3-for-3 at the plate, including a two-run homer in the seventh.
“It’s good,” Gomez said. “I’m trying to elevate my average and right now I’m relaxed at the plate and trying to get a good pitch and drive the ball.”
Ryutaro Umeno and Hiroki Uemoto also homered for Hanshin, both hitting solo shots. Murton was 2-for-5 and drove in a pair of runs while Takashi Toritani and Fukudome each picked up an RBI.
“A lot of guys contributed,” Murton said. “We were able to get some runs and Randy settled down, and it was a good game for all of us.”
Messenger (7-7) limited Yomiuri to three runs on eight hits to get his record back to .500. He struck out six and walked none. He gave up a home run to Shinnosuke Abe in the second inning, but was in control for the most part after a shaky start.
“It felt good,” Messenger said. “Anytime you give up a home run here, and it’s a solo shot, it makes it a lot nicer. There were just a couple of pitches I made a mistake on.”
Otake (6-4) got the start for the Giants and was charged with the loss after allowing six runs over five-plus innings. He struck out three and walked one.
Abe, Hisayoshi Chono and Jose Lopez all hit solo homers for Yomiuri in the losing effort. Shuichi Murata and Hirokazu Ibata also drove in runs for the Giants.
Abe was thrown out of the game for arguing a close call at first base in the eighth. He was called out, though replays revealed he’d beaten the throw from second baseman Uemoto.
The old CL rivals will meet in the second game of their three-game series on Saturday night at Tokyo Dome. The game will be a battle of left-handers. The Tigers will send Atsushi Nomi, who was on the wrong end of the decision the last time Hanshin lost a game, to the mound. The Giants will counter with Toshiya Sugiuchi.
The Tigers will be hoping to keep the winning streak going.
“It’s good for the team,” Gomez said. “Day by day, we’re trying to play hard and trying to win.”
Kajitani goes 5-for-6 in rout
Takayuki Kajitani went 5-for-6 with two home runs, a triple and four RBIs, while Shoichi Ino (9-5) allowed an unearned run in five innings to earn the win as the visiting Yokohama BayStars routed the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 10-1 on Friday in the Central League.
Yakult finished with a season-high 20 hits.
Dragons 8, Carp 2
At Nagoya Dome, Atsushi Fujii broke a 2-2 tie with a sixth-inning RBI single as Chunichi rode home runs from Hector Luna and Kazuhiro Wada to victory over Hiroshima.
Both of the Carp runs came on solo home runs.
Hawks 12, Fighters 2
At Sapporo Dome, each of Fukuoka Softbank’s starters had at least one of the team’s 19 hits with Yuichi Honda’s two-run double breaking a 2-2 tie in the sixth, while ace Tadashi Settsu (6-3) went eight innings to beat Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
Lions 2, Buffaloes 1 (12)
At Seibu Dome, Ryota Wakiya’s pinch-hit sayonara single in the 12th inning lifted Seibu over Orix, knocking the Buffaloes out of first place and lifting the Lions into third.
Eagles 8, Marines 7
At Sendai’s Kobo Stadium, Ryo Hijirisawa broke a 7-7 tie with an eighth-inning RBI double as Tohoku Rakuten won a see-saw game over Chiba Lotte.
Takashi Saito worked the ninth to earn his third save.