The Hiroshima Carp may be a long shot but they’re not quite out of the race for the Central League Climax Series just yet.
Yoshiyuki Ishihara hit a towering go-ahead three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning after Takuro Ishii tied the game with a pinch-hit RBI single in the eighth as the Carp rallied past the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 6-3 on Tuesday night at Jingu Stadium.
“A big pinch hit out of Taku allowed us to tie it up,” Carp manager Marty Brown said. “We just kept putting pressure on their bullpen and finally Ishihara ran into a big three-run homer.”
The Carp were down to their final out of the ninth when Shogo Kimura, who entered the game as a pinch runner in the eighth, used his speed to narrowly beat shortstop Ryosuke Morioka’s throw to first for an infield single. The play gave the Carp runners on first and second as Kenta Kurihara had drawn a walk in the previous at-bat.
“That’s what he brings to the table,” Brown said of Kimura. “He’s got speed and he can play various positions.
“He doesn’t get a lot of playing time or at-bats, but when he does usually something good happens just because he has speed.”
Ishihara then stepped to the plate and, after taking a fastball for ball one, got all of reliever Kenichi Matsuoka’s 1-0 offering, another fastball, sending the ball deep into the left-field stands.
“It’s nice to see Ishihara relax and swing the bat the way he can,” Brown said. “That’s what he’s been doing lately.”
Coupled with the Hanshin Tigers’ loss to the Chunichi Dragons earlier in the night, the win kept the Carp’s faint playoff hopes alive. With 25 games left Hiroshima trails the fourth-place Tigers by one game and the third-place Swallows by 3 1/2. The top three CL teams advance to the Climax Series.
Ishihara was given his shot at being the hero because of how well Ishii did it in the previous inning.
The Carp began the eighth down 3-2 when Scott McLain drew a walk to lead off the inning. Kimura, who had entered the game to run for McLain, then advanced to second on a groundout by Shigenobu Shima.
Ishii came to the plate after a flyout by Soichiro Amaya and worked the count to 3-2 before lining a single into right field.
“Taku had more experience off (pitcher Shohei) Tateyama,” Brown explained when asked why he went with Ishii in that situation instead of another option such as Masafumi Suenaga. “Taku over the years has faced him many times, whereas Suenaga was like 0-for-2 off of him.”
Right fielder Aaron Guiel fielded the ball as Kimura was being waved around third and made the throw to the plate. His throw took a high bounce near the batter’s box, bouncing into the neck of catcher Ryoji Aikawa, just above his chest protector, while Kimura scored the tying run.
Carp closer Katsuhiro Nagakawa allowed a runner to reach third but held on to earn his 29th save of the season.
Hiroshima’s Mike Schultz (3-3) worked one inning of relief for the win. Starter Kenta Maeda lasted six innings, allowing three runs on nine hits with seven strikeouts, but did not factor into the decision.
Matsuoka (5-2) was charged with the loss after giving up the home run.
Yakult starting pitcher Tateyama didn’t factor into the decision, allowing three runs on eight hits and striking out nine over 7 2/3 innings.
The Swallows went ahead early after Hiroyasu Tanaka tripled then scored on a RBI single by Aoki in the first. Yakult made the lead 2-0 on a homer by Morioka in the second. D’Antona drove in another run in the next inning to make it 3-0.
The Carp got back into the game on Kenta Kurihara’s two-run homer in the fourth.