From their eight-game winning streak at the beginning of the season to their heroic defiance of the Giants at Koshien Stadium a week ago, it's been some ride.
"We've done a little better than people thought we would," said batting coach Tom O'Malley. "I think we've learned a lot this year. We've shown some good signs of some good things that can happen in the future."
As if to underline those words, spoken just hours before the Giants clinched the CL pennant, the Tigers went out and interrupted their rivals' victory celebration with a come-from-behind victory in 12 innings, forcing the Giants their turn to celebrate on the field.
"I think we're making steps in the right direction," said O'Malley. "There's no doubt."
Manager Senichi Hoshino drilled home that point after the game.
"We're not where we want to be," said Hoshino. "We had advantages we didn't press. We are still making too many mistakes, but this experience, winning in this kind of game, is invaluable."
While every CL club had more than its share of dings this season, the Tigers may have been hurt the most--even more than the Giants.
"Every guy at every position, we were struck by injuries, every starter," said O'Malley.
"We lost (Atsushi) Kataoka, we lost George (Arias), (Makoto) Imaoka, (Osamu) Hamanaka, (Norihiro) Akahoshi, (Akihiro) Yano. You don't like to make excuses, but we can't afford to lose guys like that for extended periods of time. And we were losing them for two months at a time
"It's difficult to try and overcome that. You can do it for a little while, but not as long as we had to."
Although this year's injury toll was extreme, and the Tigers are continuing to build up their talent base, a job begun by former manager Katsuya Nomura, the team is nowhere near deep enough to get by, as the Giants tried to do for years, on talent and name value alone.
Hoshino, ever since he first appeared on the pro scene, has been about one thing: winning.
"We're playing to win now instead of before I think we would play to lose almost," said O'Malley.
"The attitude of what they've had in the past as far as coming in last place, that's changed. And that's a good part due to Hoshino. He's brought a different attitude over here."
This sounds so obvious, that one tends to overlook it. A player can have a successful day at the plate and in the field, but it's a hollow success if he passes on a chance to put his team a step closer to a win.
Hoshino was thrilled with the way the Tigers fought back and how Hamanaka, just back from an injury, stepped into the No. 4 spot in the batting order and changed the course of their big win against the Giants with a ninth-inning game-tying home run.
"That's an exceptional performance for a No. 4 hitter," said Hoshino. "A big hit at a big time. The team needed a lift and he provided it.
"That's what we need if we are to progress. Players need to shoulder the responsibility for winning in big games. He moved up in the order and took charge.
"You carry that weight in a big game--and they don't get much bigger--and you win. That stays with you and with that, you can overcome injuries and adversity."
And now that the Tigers have earned their stripes, the next question--apart from where they finish in the standings--is what's in store next year. Whatever the outcome, the Tigers certainly feel they have a bright future for themselves and for their tremendous fans.
"I think next year you're going to see not only a different team, but a different look," said O'Malley, who did not go into specifics.
"We're going to make some changes and for the better. We're going to be a team to be reckoned with.
"You won't see any complacency here. Not as long as Hoshino's around. He's a competitor and he won't let it happen."
The Hot Corner appears each Thursday in The
Daily Yomiuri .