CHIBA — After a month on the road, the Chiba Lotte Marines finally returned home. The way the Marines played suggests that they’re not planning on leaving again.
Shunsuke Watanabe threw a complete game and Ikuhiro Kiyota broke things open with a three-run triple in the fourth inning to help the Marines beat the Chunichi Dragons 7-1 to take a 2-1 lead in the Japan Series on Tuesday at Chiba Marine Stadium.
“Good win at home after a long absence,” Marines manager Norifumi Nishimura said. “It’s been more than a month since we played here, so it feels great to return home with a victory.”
As the third-place team in the Pacific League standings, the Marines were forced to hit the road for all of their Climax Series games. They played the first two games of the Japan Series away from home as well.
“It indeed gives us some comfort,” Watanabe said of playing at home. “When we played against Softbank, it was like, we were surrounded by enemies and it made me feel like I was doing bad things. But here, the atmosphere made me think I was doing good things.”
Watanabe needed just 97 pitches to dispose of the Dragons. He allowed one run, struck out five and at one point retired 12 straight batters.
“My condition was good, and my catcher (Tomoya) Satozaki and my coach (Takashi) Nishimoto encouraged me throughout the game,” Watanabe said. “So I was able to relax and pitch my game, my way.”
Utilizing a curveball that at times can border on unfair when unfurled in the windy conditions at Lotte’s home park, Watanabe kept the Chunichi lineup off balance and was never in too much trouble.
“He had really good movement on his pitches tonight,” Nishimura said. “He was dropping the ball in there and kept the Dragons batters from getting their timing all night.”
Rookie outfielder Kiyota also played a big role in the homecoming, driving in three runs on a 2-for-3 night. He’s put together a very good series to this point and is 4-for-11 (.364) with a home run and four RBIs through the first three games.
“I feel fantastic,” Kiyota said. “This is a great win for us. I finally shook off the nervousness of the first two games and I knew the home crowd was behind us.”
He stepped to the plate in the fourth after Chunichi starter Daisuke Yamai walked Tsuyoshi Nishioka to load the bases. Ahead 2-0 in the count, Kiyota got the pitch he was waiting for and lined it into center to clear the bases.
“During Tsuyoshi-san’s at-bat, Yamai kept throwing balls with his breaking balls,” Kiyota said. “During my at-bat, the count got to 2-0 and I thought he would throw me something in the strike zone, so I was looking for it. It might have been a little outside but I was able to make good contact.”
Lotte’s Saburo Omura was 2-for-3 and drove his team’s first run with a single in the third. Tadahito Iguchi recorded an RBI in the fifth, the highlight of his 2-for-4 night.
Yamai had a rough outing, allowing five runs on eight hits, striking out two and walking two over 3 2/3 innings.
“I revealed my bad habits in such an important game,” Yamai said. “I have nothing but regret.”
Chunichi’s Motonobu Tanishige led off the third with a single, later going from first to third on a single by Yohei Oshima. Masahiro Araki followed Oshima with a sacrifice fly to left that brought in the game’s first run.
The Marines battled back in the bottom half, tying the score on Omura’s run-scoring hit.
Kiyota’s three-run triple made the score 4-1 in the fourth and Iguchi padded the lead with an RBI double later in the inning.
Lotte added a pair of runs in the seventh on sacrifice flies from Toshiaki Imae and Kazuya Fukuura.
The win tilts the series in favor of the Marines, who will play the next two games at home. They’ll close out the Japanese Fall Classic if they win both.
“That would be great if we could do that,” Nishimura said. “But we have to win tomorrow’s game before we can think about Thursday.”