September 29, 2008

Baseball Update

Back home, the Yanks are out of the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. While being in Japan hasn't made us lose interest in New York sports, the mediocrity of this baseball season didn't exactly have us rushing off to check the box scores everyday.

And we have really gotten into Japan League baseball, particularly of the Hanshin Tigers. Being friends with some of the players and their families has helped, as has their generosity with their tickets! The Tigers are a very likeable bunch too - steadfast RBI guy and longtime Tiger Kanemoto, quintessential lead-off man Akahoshi, young slugging first baseman Arai, slick fielding double-play combination Toritani and Hirano, and a stud bullpen. It also helps that Koshien is an amazing place to watch a ballgame, and their fans are among the loudest and the most devoted you will find anywhere.
This season, the Tigers got off to an amazingly hot start. Keyed by excellent starting pitching and relief work, and a great 1 through 5 in the lineup (including the Arai/Kanemoto 3-4 hole combination), it looked like they were going to run away and hide. In July they were up on the rival Giants by 13 games. But since the Olympics, Hanshin has slumped badly. Arai hurt his back and disappeared, the pitching softened, and amazingly last week, the Giants swept the Tigers in a three game series and drew even in the standings. Now, with just the rain-out make-up games left, the Tigers and Giants are in a dogfight for the Central League Pennant. Of late, the Tigers are back to playing better ball.

Today Arai finally returned, and in the bottom of the 8th led of with a single. Kanemoto followed with a home run, and it felt like the beginning of the season again. So, down the stretch we come...

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