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Marines outplay Hawks in Game 1

by Kaz Nagatsuka

FUKUOKA — Conventional wisdom states that the Hawks are thought to have an overwhelming edge over the Marines with their one-win advantage, plus, with two of the best southpaw pitchers in the game in Toshiya Sugiuchi and Tsuyoshi Wada.

But Yoshihisa Naruse performed as though he was defying the odds and the reputation that the aforementioned lefties are better pitchers.

The left-handed Naruse went the distance, outdueling Sugiuchi in the Marines’ 3-1 win over the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Game 1 of the Pacific League Climax Series final stage on Thursday night.

The victory erased Softbank’s one-win advantage. Fukuoka won the league pennant in the regular season, but now the series is tied 1-1.

“I focused on giving us a chance to win,” said Naruse, who pitched on four days’ rest for the first time in his pro career, after the game.

“For four days’ rest, my pitches were better than the last time (Game 1 in the first stage), and I was a bit surprised about that.”

Naruse, 25, tossed 134 pitches and scattered four hits, striking out nine.

“It was all Naruse tonight,” Marines skipper Norifumi Nishimura said of his ace lefty, who was 0-4 against the Hawks this season. “While we couldn’t afford to lose this game, this guy’s done a tremendous job.”

Sugiuchi didn’t look as sharp as he normally does. The 29-year-old went 6 1/3 innings, allowing six hits, five walks and three runs. He fanned six batters.

The surging Marines, who swept the Seibu Lions in the first stage, carried their momentum into this game and successfully took the lead early.

After back-to-back hits by Makoto Imaoka and Kim Tae Kyun in the second inning, Shoitsu Omatsu belted a high-flying home run into the right-field stands to put three on the board.

“Imaoka and Kim set the table for me and I tried to do the same, too,” Omatsu said. “And it just happened to be a home run.”

The Hawks rallied in the fifth, when Munenori Kawasaki drove home Nobuhiro Matsuda from second base. But the team’s subsequent batters couldn’t come up with another run before the inning ended.

After the third inning on, Sugiuchi and Hawks relievers blanked the Marines the rest of the way. But their offense came up short against Naruse, who seemingly got better as the innings wore on.

Asked if he intended to go all the way by himself, Naruse said: “That’s right. After the seventh inning, I started throwing pitches I wanted to. And my motivation level was pretty high. So I asked the manager to let me go until the end.”

The biggest chance to score for the Hawks was in the first inning. They loaded the bases with two out. But Naruse got out of the jam by fanning Roberto Petagine.

“We could’ve caught Naruse early,” Softbank manager Koji Akiyama said. “And the Marines offense capitalized on the opportunity (in the second).”

Game 2 is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. at Yahoo Dome on Friday.

Iwakuma update

SENDAI (Kyodo) The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles will not let go of right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma if they think the bid price is below his value in the posting system, a senior club official said Thursday.

“I know this is not about making money, but if the price is too low, we won’t accept it,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Iwakuma is looking to sign with a major league club this offseason through the posting system, in which major league clubs present sealed bids for a Japanese player seeking to pursue a career in the majors before acquiring free agent status.

The highest bidder gets to negotiate a contract with the player, upon approval of the price by his Japanese club.