As reporters left the field at the conclusion of the Hanshin Tigers’ batting practice, Tom O’Malley, one of the team’s hitting coaches, gave a wave and said, “We’ll see you tomorrow.”
It didn’t take long for the Tigers to start proving him right.
Randy Messenger was solid for seven innings, Mauro Gomez and Matt Murton hit first-inning home runs (Gomez’s a two-run shot), and Hanshin staved off elimination with a 4-2 victory in Game 2 of the Central League Climax Series first stage in front of a crowd of 46,698 on Sunday afternoon at Tokyo Dome.
“It was a good win,” Murton said.
The teams will meet in the decisive Game 3 on Monday. The winner moves on to the final stage against the CL champion Tokyo Yakult Swallows. That series begins Wednesday at Jingu Stadium.
“We have one more life,” Messenger said. “We have to win tomorrow. With the Tigers fans’ support, I know we can win.”
The Tigers were 4-10 down the stretch in the regular season, and backed into the Climax Series after the Chunichi Dragons beat the Hiroshima Carp on Oct. 7. Now, somewhat improbably, they sit one win away from keeping alive their hopes of a second consecutive trip to the Japan Series.
It was a rare win for Hanshin at the Big Egg, where the team had been 2-12 this year, including Saturday’s Game 1 loss.
Messenger got the start for the Tigers and got the job done on the mound. He allowed a pair of runs on nine hits. The big right-hander struck out seven and walked two.
“I feel great,” Messenger said. “The guys stepped up in the first inning. Gomez’s two-run shot and Murton’s home run gave me a three-run lead. Anytime I get a three-run lead early, I’m happy.”
Messenger also praised his partnership with catcher Akihito Fujii.
“Fujii and I had a good thing going today,” he said. “I gave up nine hits, but a lot of them were cheap singles, so it was OK.”
Gomez did a lot of the heavy lifting with his homer in the first. He also had a single and drew a walk. Murton reached base four times, finishing 2-for-3 with a single, homer and two walks.
“I’m just trying to change my approach,” Murton said. “I think a lot of this year, the situations made us real defensive. So I’m just trying to get back to playing baseball the way I expect to play; be a little bit more aggressive, look for something good to hit and go up there and swing it.”
Hanshin’s Taiga Egoshi had a multi-hit game, going 2-for-3, and Takashi Toritani also had a pair of hits and drew a walk.
It was a somber 26th birthday for Giants starter Tomoyuki Sugano, who allowed four runs on six hits over four innings. He struck out five and walked two batters. The Yomiuri fans sang “Happy Birthday” to him during his first at-bat, and the Giants pitcher promptly bunted into an inning-ending double play.
The Giants got their runs on Yasuyuki Kataoka’s RBI groundout in the first and a pinch-hit solo home run by Leslie Anderson in the seventh.
Toritani was moved from third to first in the Hanshin lineup for Game 2 and drew a walk to start the opening frame. Hiroki Uemoto moved the runner up with a sacrifice bunt before Kosuke Fukudome struck out swinging.
The Tigers cashed in with two outs when Gomez sent a 132-kph slider into the seats to give his team a 2-0 advantage. Murton connected on Sugano’s very next pitch, hitting a towering shot into the stands in left field.
“I got a strike and I took a good swing,” Murton said.
Soichiro Tateoka started the home half of the inning with a triple and scored on a groundout by Kataoka.
The Tigers picked up a pair of base runners on one-out singles by Egoshi and Fujii in the fourth. Messenger then bunted a ball toward Sugano. The Yomiuri starter fielded the ball, but made a bad throw to third, in an attempt to get the lead runner. That allowed a run to score.
Anderson brought the Giants within two runs with his home run to lead off the seventh, but the Tigers shut down the Kyojin the rest of the way.
Fighters edge Marines
Sapporo — Brandon Laird tied the game 2-2 in the eighth inning with his second double of the afternoon and Kenji Yano followed with a two-run single as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters rallied to defeat the Chiba Lotte Marines 4-2 on Sunday afternoon in Game 2 of the Pacific League Climax Series first stage.
The series is now tied at one game apiece.
A win or tie by the host Fighters will send them into the second stage against the PL champion Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.