TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — You just cannot count out these Chiba Lotte Marines.
The Marines erased a four-run deficit in the ninth inning and Kazuya Fukuura struck the deciding blow with a solo home run in the 11th to lead Lotte to a 6-5 win over the Seibu Lions in Game 1 of the Pacific League Climax Series on Saturday at Seibu Dome.
“It was a great come-from-behind victory today,” Fukuura said. “We were down but not out. We never gave up, even when we were four runs down in the ninth inning. We fought to the end.”
Lotte leads the best-of-three series 1-0.
“Our guys never give up until the game is over and we showed that,” Lotte manager Norifumi Nishimura said.
The Lions put a runner on second in the bottom of the 10th, but a sliding catch by rookie Ikuhiro Kiyota in left and clutch pitching from Hiroyuki Kobayashi left the runner stranded with the score 5-5.
That set the stage for Fukuura, who drove a 1-0 slider into the sizable throng of black shirt-clad Marines fans in right field.
“I was just trying to get something started, but I got a good pitch and was lucky enough to hit it over the fence,” Fukuura said.
Kobayashi returned to retire the side in the 11th and earn the victory.
Fukuura finished 3-for-5, Tsuyoshi Nishioka homered and Tomoya Satozaki and Kim Tae Kyun each drove in a pair of runs for Lotte.
The Marines can advance to a matchup against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the second stage of the Climax Series with a victory over the Lions on Sunday.
Game 1 began as a pitcher’s duel but denigrated into a free-for-all once Lions ace Hideaki Wakui and Lotte’s Yoshihisa Naruse were gone.
Naruse left a 1-1 game in the eighth with a runner on first. Tatsuya Uchi came on in relief only to walk the first batter he faced. Uchi then retired Hisashi Takayama and loaded the bases by walking Yoshihito Ishii.
Uchi gave up a grounder to Tomoaki Sato, but third baseman Toshiaki Imae fielded the ball and threw home for the second out of the inning.
Hiroyuki Oshima, followed with a two-run single, and a pair of errors on the same play allowed a third run to score. Takumi Kuriyama drove in another run later in the inning to give the Lions a 5-1 lead. Lotte second baseman Tadahito Iguchi led off the ninth with a single off closer Brian Sikorski, but Saburo Omura went down on strikes. Consecutive singles by Fukuura and Imae then loaded the bases for Kim.
The Korean slugger drove in a pair with a single to center to cut the lead to 5-3. Shoitsu Omatsu followed with a walk to reload the bases and Satozaki tied the game with a two-run single.
Nishioka then hit a fly ball to left which was caught by Sato as Yoshifumi Okada, running for Omatsu, broke for home from third. Sato made the relay throw to Hiroyuki Nakajima and the shortstop gunned down the runner at the plate to keep the score 5-5.
Prior to all the late-inning drama, it was Wakui and Naruse who set the tone.
Wakui threw eight strong innings, allowing one run on four hits and striking out nine. Naruse was nearly as good, charged with a pair of runs on seven hits, striking out eight and walking four in seven-plus innings.
“It’s huge that we took today’s game,” Naruse said. “Although I gave up a big one (a second-inning homer to Takeya Nakamura), I was more relaxed than I was expecting to be. After the home run, I was able to pitch with strength.”
Neither bullpen could match the quality of its starter, with both units falling apart late.
Uchi allowed three runs — one earned — after Naruse’s departure, while Sikorski was charged with four runs for Seibu. Lions reliever Yoshihiro Doi took the loss after giving up Fukuura’s home run.
Nakamura opened the scoring with a homer in the second and Nishioka tied the score with his homer to straightaway center in the eighth.
Lotte will send Bill Murphy to the mound on Sunday with an eye on closing out the series. The task of keeping the Lions’ season alive falls to Takayuki Kishi.
Read expanded postseason baseball coverage on The Japan Times’ website.