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[NPB NOTEBOOK] Hanshin Tigers Overcome Yomiuri Giants in Familiar Fashion

In a heated pitchers' duel, the Hanshin Tigers prevailed against their Central League archrivals in a series-closing win on April 18 at Koshien Stadium.

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Hanshin Tigers third baseman Teruaki Sato hits a game-winning single off Yomiuri Giants reliever Taisei Ota in the 10th inning on April 18, 2024, at Koshien Stadium. (©SANKEI)

Read the full story on SportsLook - [NPB NOTEBOOK] Hanshin Tigers Overcome Yomiuri Giants in Familiar Fashion

The reigning Japan Series champion Hanshin Tigers beat the Yomiuri Giants 2-1 in 10 innings on Thursday, April 18 in a game that had a distinctly familiar feel to it.

Yomiuri ace pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano took a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning at a raucous Koshien Stadium. 

The 34-year-old right-hander had pitched a strong game, striking out nine and holding the powerful Hanshin batters to just three hits through seven innings.

Sugano, who is looking to regain the dominant form that allowed him to win the Sawamura Award in 2017 and 2018 as Japan's top pitcher, was at 100 pitches but new Giants manager Shinnosuke Abe elected to let him go out for the eighth inning against their archrivals.

Pinch hitter Ukyo Maegawa led off by slicing a single to left. Koji Chikamoto followed with another base hit and Shota Morishita singled to left, allowing the tying run to score and knocking Sugano out of the game.

The Tigers would score the winning run in the bottom of the 10th with three hits off reliever Taisei Ota, including Teruaki Sato's game-winning shot down the right-field line.

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Hanshin Tigers
The Hansin Tigers, including Teruaki Sato (center) celebrate their walk-off win over the Yomiuri Giants on April 18 at Koshien Stadium. (KYODO)

Yomiuri Giants starter Tomoyuki Sugano pitches to a Hanshin Tigers batter. (©SANKEI)

Pitching Decisions Backfire for Giants Manager Abe

When Tatsunori Hara was the manager of the Giants, up until the end of the 2023 season, he often got burned by leaving his pitchers in too long. It's one of the reasons he's no longer the manager. 

Of course, anyone can second guess a manager in this situation and a lot depends on your bullpen. But generally speaking, when a 34-year-old pitcher gets to 100 pitches it's wise to look for relief.

The Giants had the second-worst team ERA last season and only one regular starter, Shosei Togo, had double-digit wins with 12.

If the Giants are to make strides this season, they will need to do a better job of managing their starters and using their bullpen at the right time.

Abe took a chance that Sugano had at least another inning left in him and it cost Yomiuri the game and the series and Sugano what could have been his third win of the season.

The final line on Sugano was one earned run on six hits with nine strikeouts and two walks over 7⅓ innings.

After the game, Abe tipped his cap to the opponents.

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"It doesn't feel like we lost," Abe told Nikkan Sports. "But in the end, they were last year's champions and it was impressive how they showed such tenacity in the late stages of the game."

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Hanshin Tigers starting pitcher Yuki Nishi in action against the Yomiuri Giants. (KYODO)

Nishi Keeps the Tigers in the Game

Hanshin starter Yuki Nishi, who had a no-decision, was equally impressive, allowing one run on four hits over eight innings.

Meanwhile, Hanshin manager Akinobu Okada did his best to try to suppress his joy at winning two out of three over the Giants. The first game of the series ended in a 1-1 draw, the second game finished 2-0 win for the hosts.

"There is no point in getting too happy," Okada said in his usual deadpan manner. "The season has just started and there is a long way to go."

Continue reading the full story on SportsLook.

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Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.

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