NAGOYA — An improbable postseason just keeps getting more unbelievable for the Chiba Lotte Marines. Three more wins and their fairy tale will be complete.
Rookie Ikuhiro Kiyota and Tadahito Iguchi homered and the Lotte lineup cranked out 13 hits to take Game 1 of the Japan Series with a 5-2 win over the Chunichi Dragons on Saturday at Nagoya Dome.
Lotte has now won the opening game of all three of its postseason series this year. The Marines won the first game of their matchups against the Seibu Lions and Pacific League champion Fukuoka Softbank Hawks during the PL Climax Series.
The Marines also have five straight victories in the Japanese Fall Classic, dating back to the 2005 Series against the Hanshin Tigers.
“It feels the same as when we won the first game in 2005 and went on to sweep Hanshin,” Toshiaki Imae said. “It is always important to get that first win, especially this time as we are on the road.”
Showing no signs of an 11-day layoff, the Marines knocked around the Chunichi pitchers, ending the night with nine different players having recorded at least one hit.
Iguchi went 3-for-5 with an RBI while Kiyota finished 2-for-5 and drove in a run.
Kiyota’s home run tied the game in the third inning and was his third of the playoffs after hitting just two during the regular season.
“It was a forkball that was high in the zone and I was able to hit it well,” Kiyota said. “I just wanted to do my job and help the team win.”
Imae, the 2005 Japan Series MVP, was 3-for-3 with a sacrifice bunt and an RBI.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to help us win,” Imae said. “Chunichi is a strong team, so we can’t take them for granted.”
With the offense clicking, starter Yoshihisa Naruse and the Lotte bullpen held the Dragons hitters in check, with a pair of second-inning home runs given up their only blemish on the night.
Naruse, who has pitched so well this postseason, gave up Chunichi’s homers in the second but still recorded the win, allowing two runs on four hits and striking out six over five innings. He improved to 3-0 in four starts in these playoffs.
“I was able to pitch without too much nervousness,” Naruse said. “My pitches were working better than I expected. I misfired on a few of my breaking balls and I need to think about that. I also need to reflect on the two home runs I allowed in the second inning.”
Yasuhiko Yabuta, Tatsuya Uchi, Yoshihiro Ito and closer Hiroyuki Kobayashi followed with four innings of scoreless relief, combining to allow just two hits while striking out five. Kobayashi recorded the last three outs to earn the save.
“I’m glad we were able to win this game,” Kobayashi said. “Naruse pitched well and our bullpen was really strong tonight.”
Chunichi starter Kazuki Yoshimi had a short, rough outing in his Japan Series debut, allowing three runs on six hits in three innings. Yoshimi hit two batters and walked one.
“I’m disappointed I couldn’t set the tone for the team,” Yoshimi said.
Things weren’t much better at the plate with CL MVP candidate Kazuhiro Wada and Motonobu Tanishige the lone bright spots. Wada led off the second inning with his fifth career Japan Series home run and Tanishige homered later in the inning.
The normally pitcher-friendly Nagoya Dome was anything but, as the two teams combined to hit four home runs. Omatsu nearly homered in the second, settling instead for an RBI double that put the Marines ahead 1-0.
The Dragons took the lead in their next turn at the plate, going ahead 2-1 after Wada and Tanishige’s home runs.
Kiyota went deep to tie the game in the third, with Imae driving in the tiebreaking run with a single later in the frame. Nishioka singled in a run in the sixth and Iguchi homered in the seventh to pad the advantage.
The win gave Lotte skipper Norifumi Nishimura a victory in his first Japan Series game as a manager.
“It’s the best feeling,” Nishimura said. “Especially since we gave up the lead in the second inning but came back to go ahead in the third and held on after that.”