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Eagles rout Hawks in opener

Takasu's leadoff blast sets tone for high-scoring Tohoku Rakuten

by Jason Coskrey

SENDAI — It took two pitches for Yosuke Takasu to get the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ message across.

These Eagles didn’t reach the postseason to be a feel-good story. They’re here to win games.

Takasu hit a leadoff homer in the first inning and starter Hisashi Iwakuma went the distance as the Eagles made their playoff debut with an 11-4 rout of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Game 1 of the first stage of the Pacific League Climax Series on Friday night at Kleenex Stadium in Sendai.

“It was good I was able to lead off with a home run and give the Eagles fans their first chance to cheer in our first playoff game,” Takasu said.

The Eagles jumped all over one of Japanese baseball’s best pitchers, Toshiya Sugiuchi, to move within one victory of a date with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the second stage of the playoffs.

“We got the first win and it feels good,” Rakuten manager Katsuya Nomura said. “Sugiuchi was not himself tonight and we were able to play long ball.”

Fernando Seguignol also got into the act in the first, hitting a two-run bomb to give the Eagles a quick 3-0 lead.

“I was looking for something to drive and I just wanted to give Iwakuma a bigger lead and let him do his thing,” Seguignol said.

Toshiya Nakashima took Sugiuchi deep as well, hitting the foul pole with a deep drive to left field in the third. Takeshi Yamasaki also homered for the Eagles, hitting a solo shot in the seventh.

“I knew I hit it well and I was relieved when it stayed fair and hit the pole for a home run as I thought it might go foul,” Nakashima said.

Sugiuchi lasted just 2 2/3 innings, giving up seven runs on five hits in the loss.

Playing with unbridled emotion and energized by a loud, enthusiastic crowd of 21,303, the Eagles’ hustle on the basepaths, set the stage for their opportunistic lineup to make plays.

Takasu finished with a pair of hits and an RBI, Nakashima was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and Seguignol drove in three runs on a 1-for-3 night.

Rakuten also got the job done without the long ball, as Teppei Tsuchiya brought home a run with a double in the third. Daisuke Kusano accounted for another with a single in the sixth and Naoto Watanabe drove in a pair of runs with a single later in the same inning.

All the offense gave Eagles ace Iwakuma a large margin for error as he picked up the win. Iwakuma nearly coughed up a seven-run lead, giving up four runs in the fourth, but kept his focus and gave up just three hits from that point on.

“I was able to regain my composure after the fourth,” Iwakuma said. “I felt good the rest of the way.”

The Rakuten starter gave up four runs — two earned — on six hits and struck out seven.

Down 7-0 after three innings, the shellshocked Hawks regrouped and cut the lead to three with a four-run fourth. Jose Ortiz was the point man for the Hawks, driving in a pair of runs on a 1-for-4 night.

The Hawks will send D.J. Houlton (11-8) to the mound in Saturday’s Game 2 to try and prevent Rakuten from sweeping the series. The Eagles will counter with Masahiro Tanaka (15-6) as they try to advance to the next round.

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For expanded Nippon Professional Baseball playoff coverage, visit The Japan Times’ Web site. Saturday’s online coverage includes an interview with Houlton.