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Watanabe, Marines force Game 5

by Kaz Nagatsuka

FUKUOKA — The submarine was elusive and the Hawks had no idea how to sink it.

Well, until the ninth inning. By then it was too late.

Submarine pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe worked eight-plus effective innings and helped the Marines stave off elimination with a 4-2 victory over Fukuoka Softbank in Game 4 of the Pacific League Climax Series final stage on Sunday afternoon.

As a result, the series goes to Monday’s Game 5, with the Hawks needing one more win to clinch. They now hold a 3-2 series lead. Softbank entered the series with one-win advantage due to the regular-season PL champion’s automatic one-game advantage.

“I feel pretty tired. I want to sit down as soon as possible,” Watanabe joked after the game at Yahoo Dome, which was filled with 36,235 fans.

Watanabe blanked Softbank for eight frames before he finally allowed a pair of runs in the last inning. But Hiroyuki Kobayashi relieved him to end the thriller, notching a save.

“It wouldn’t have meant anything had we lost today,” Watanabe said. “So Hiroyuki saved my neck.”

The Marines put a run on the scoreboard for the first time in 19 innings, when designated hitter Makoto Imaoka belted a solo home run off Hawks’ Taiwanese starter Yang Yao-hsun in the second inning.

“That gave us some momentum and courage,” Marines skipper Norifumi Nishimura said. “It could’ve been our last game of the year, but he did a very good job.”

Chiba Lotte added a run in both the fourth and sixth, when Shoitsu Omatsu stroked an RBI single and Toshiaki Imae scored in the later frame on a Kim Tae Kyun groundout.

Tadahito Iguchi delivered an RBI hit in the top of the ninth, an insurance run based on what was to follow.

Moments later, the Hawks’ offense took advantage of a fatigued Watanabe with three consecutive hits to score a run. They added another on Kobayashi’s bases-loaded hit-by-pitch. But in the end, the rally just started too late.

Watanabe, who made his first start since Sept. 15 and spent some time in the farm system, pitched effectively, using his off-speed curveballs to dazzle Hawks batters’ eyes.

The 34-year-old pitcher yielded seven hits and a walk, while striking out four and throwing 120 pitches. His counterpart, lefty Yang, gave up two runs, three hits and three walks in 3 2/3 innings.

“He had a chance to have a complete-game shutout in his first start since he came back from the farm team. That’s ridiculous,” Lotte catcher Tomoya Satozaki said of Watanabe with a laugh. “But he was certainly good and consistent today.”

The Marines scored only four runs — all on home runs — and had 13 hits in the series’ first three contests. But they showed some sign of recovery in Game 4, rapping out eight hits.

Iguchi went 3-for-5 with an RBI and Nishioka had two hits and a stolen base.

For the Hawks, Hitoshi Tamura was 2-for-4.

“Our offense was good today,” Nishimura said. “Sometimes you may not have RBI hits. Although we only scored on home runs, we kept our faith our guys would come up with some runs sooner or later.”

Meanwhile, Nishimura now has something to worry about because shortstop Nishioka and left fielder Ikuhiro Kiyota collided with each other on a Nobuhiko Matsunaka blooper, which neither could catch.

Although both of them stayed in the game, Nishimura said he would have to see check on their condition later.

“Right now they have some tension and are OK,” he said. “But maybe tonight or tomorrow morning, pain might come out. So we’ll have to see.”

Monday’s Game 5 will start at 6 p.m. at Yahoo Dome. Kenji Otonari will start for the Hawks, while Yuta Omine will take the mound for the Marines.