TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — Yu Darvish showed a different side to his game. But the result was the same as always.
The Fighters’ ace pitcher stood big before the powerful Lions and his teammates gave him an early lead as Hokkaido Nippon Ham tamed Seibu 5-0 in Game 2 of the second stage of the Pacific League Climax Series at Seibu Dome on Saturday afternoon.
With the win, the Fighters shrunk the deficit to 1-2 in the series.
“I was pitching thinking there is no way we lose,” said Darvish, who had a complete game shutout with 124 pitches.
Darvish gave up just three hits, striking out six — slightly fewer batters for his high standards. He had 10 or more strikeouts for five contests in a row from the regular season.
It wasn’t a biting slider, his signature outpitch, but two-seam fastballs that effectively worked out for Darvish on the day. The Lions hitters were helpless as he sharply came inside with the weapon.
“I threw two-seamers inside thinking I wouldn’t mind even if I hit (the batters) with them,” said Darvish, who kept his undefeated record in the Climax Series at 5-0 (excluding the Japan Series). “My legs were stiff from early on, but I was helped because the two-seamers were good.”
Darvish was able to pitch boldly against the Lions, who embarrassed the defending PL champions in a 10-3 win in Game 1, after the Fighters offense stepped up and presented him with run-scoring support earlier in the game.
With Nippon Ham up 1-0 in the fourth inning, outfielder Tomochika Tsuboi got a lucky hit off Seibu’s 12-game winner starter Takayuki Kishi between shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima and second baseman Yasuyuki Kataoka to drive home second base runner Terrmel Sledge.
Two batters later, Makoto Kaneko, who sat out Game 1 with a lower back injury, belted a high-towering two-run homer, also off Kishi, into the left field stands to make the score 5-0, which eventually was the final outcome.
“If I hit fouls or something, it would’ve been painful on my back, so I made it with just one swing,” joked an elusive Kaneko, who was 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
Kishi, who was 2-0 against the Fighters during the regular season, allowed seven hits and struck out three, and was responsible for all the five earned runs for the loss.
“We couldn’t hit and it was a complete loss for us,” Seibu manager Hisanobu Watanabe said. “Darvish is a great pitcher. We instructed our batters to go for his outside pitches, but he came at us with his inside pitches.”
Fighters manager Masataka Nashida took a deep sigh of relief as his most dependable ace got his job done perfectly after Friday’s crushing defeat.
“If we had to be down 1-2 (in the series), we would prefer to win today, with a win by Darvish,” Nashida said. “His two-seamers were biting so hard, and the opposing batters obviously didn’t like them. I’ve never seen pitches like that.”
Said Darvish: “We took an embarrassing loss yesterday, so I wanted to inflict some damage on them today.”
Game 3 will be played at 1 p.m. at Seibu Dome on Sunday. Lefty Masaru Takeda will be sent to the mound for Nippon Ham, while Kazuyuki Hoashi, also a left-handed hurler, starts for the Lions.