The hardy souls who follow the Hanshin Tigers sat through a steady downpour Wednesday at Koshien Stadium, hoping to see Tomoaki Kanemoto join the 2,000-hit club.
That didn't happen, but they did get to witness another veteran, left-hander Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi, put in a masterful performance as he shut down the high-powered offense of the Chunichi Dragons in a 2-0 win for the Tigers.
Makoto Imaoka lined an RBI single to right in the first inning and Takashi Toritani doubled in a run in the third off Taiwanese left-hander Chen Wei-yin as the Central League-leading Tigers improved to 9-2 with the win.
The Dragons, the defending Japan Series champions, saw their record fall to 6-4-1.
Shimoyanagi, an 18-year veteran who will turn 40 next month, improved to 2-0, restricting the Dragons to just two hits over seven innings, striking out four and walking one.
He turned it over to relief ace Tomoyuki Kubota for the eighth inning and closer Kyuji Fujikawa came in for the ninth to nail down the win, striking out the side to pick up his seventh save of the season.
The only offense Chunichi mustered on the night was a Masahiko Morino double in the third inning and a single by Hirokazu Ibata in the fourth.
Chen (1-1) took the loss, allowing two runs on four hits through four innings. He walked three and struck out five. Three relievers held the Tigers to just one hit the rest of the way.
A day after going 0-for-3, Hanshin veteran Kanemoto was 0-for-3 again on Wednesday to remain stuck on 1,999 hits. The 40-year-old outfielder drew a walk and then was struck out by Chen and reliever Daisuke Yamai before flying out to second base off Masato Kobayashi on a 3-2 pitch in the eighth inning.
Kanemoto is gunning to become the 37th man in Japanese professional baseball history to reach the 2,000-hit milestone, earning entry into the prestigious Meikyukai ("Golden Players") club, whose membership is comprised of NPB players and players who played in both NPB and the major leagues who accumulated at least 2,000 hits, 200 wins or 250 saves.
Kanemoto has hit .300 or better seven times in his storied career with the Hiroshima Carp and Tigers. In 2005, he had his most productive season with 40 homers, 125 RBIs and a .303 average. This season, Kanemoto is hitting .324 with three home runs.
The last men to crack the 2,000-hit plateau were Carp veteran Tomonori Maeda and the Nippon-Ham Fighters' Yukio Tanaka, who both did it last season. Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai managed 2,371 hits as a player, but in typical Ochiai fashion he refused to join the Meikyukai club.
Elsewhere in the CL, Giants stopper Marc Kroon closed out the ninth inning by inducing a game-ending double play against his old team as visiting Yomiuri defeated the Yokohama BayStars 4-1. At Jingu Stadium, the Hiroshima Carp edged the Yakult Swallows 1-0.
In the Pacific League, the Lotte Marines clobbered the Seibu Lions 10-1 at Seibu Dome. At Sapporo Dome, the Nippon-Ham Fighters clipped the Rakuten Eagles 4-2. The Orix Buffaloes beat the Softbank Hawks 4-1 at Yahoo Dome.
(IHT/Asahi: April 10,2008)