The Chiba Lotte Marines were taking a chance holding back ace Yoshihisa Naruse in Game 5 of the Japan Series, where a loss would’ve left them in an uphill battle to win the title.
Turns out it wasn’t that big of a gamble after all. Because the hitters did their jobs and Hayden Penn did his part.
The Marines put forth a great performance at the plate in a 10-4 win on Thursday, but Penn also held his own on the mound and as a result, the Marines will take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 on Saturday, when they will have a chance to send the title back to Chiba.
“Although he gave up a run in the first inning, he didn’t throw many balls,” Marines pitching coach Takashi Nishimoto said. “He was able to prevent the opponent from gaining any momentum.”
Penn gave up two runs, struck out three and walked two in 5 1/3 innings to earn the victory. He became the second foreign pitcher in franchise history to win his Japan Series debut and 12th overall in NPB history to win the first time out.
He walked a batter, gave up a hit and then a run-scoring sacrifice fly in the first inning to fall behind early. From there he settled in and kept his focus on keeping the Dragons off the scoreboard.
“There’s always pressure,” Penn said. “You really just want to go out there and compete for your teammates. These guys have been busting their butts all year. That’s my job, to come in and keep us in the game and give us a chance to win. Like I said, they made it easy for me tonight. I was glad they came out on top.”
Penn hit another rough patch in the sixth, while trying to close out the inning while holding on to a 4-1 lead.
He gave up a run on a Tony Blanco double during the inning, but was pleased with the job left-hander Tatsuya Furuya did in relief to get out of the inning with the lead at 4-2.
“I’d really like to say something about the job Furuya did for me,” Penn said. “Putting out that fire. The game was a little bit in the balance still. A base hit there and who knows. He did a great job. That was a huge, huge part of the game for us.”
Veteran catcher Tomoya Satozaki kept Penn in his comfort zone, calling a steady game and helping guide the well-traveled hurler past the Central League champions.
“I tried to get him to throw pitches he felt comfortable with,” Satozaki said.
Penn was getting good movement on his fastballs, particularly his four-seamer, was hitting his spots with his curve, and was aided by the typically windy conditions at Chiba Marine Stadium.
“I really didn’t want to go with my two-seamer,” Penn said. “I felt like I had really good finish on my four-seamer. Me and Sato stuck with it. I got a couple of jam-jobs later in the game and it was a pretty big pitch for me.”
Penn joined the Marines on July 22, after stints with three MLB clubs since 2005, and was 1-3 with a 3.69 ERA in eight appearances.
He was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the fifth round of the 2002 amateur draft and made his major league debut on May 28, 2005. The Orioles then traded him to the Florida Marlins in 2009.
He was waived by the Marlins during spring training this season and was claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Penn made the Pirates’ opening-day roster but was designated for assignment on April 12.
He has a career 4-6 record in the majors.
“It’s been a great ride,” Penn said. “This is my third team this year. I was with the Marlins and the Pirates and now, thankfully, everything worked out the way it was supposed to, getting here and being a part of this.”
For Penn, this season’s journey, on the mound at least, might have ended on Friday, in the last game at Chiba Marine Stadium this year. But being selected for the postgame hero interview made it a bit more meaningful.
“It was a huge honor,” Penn said. “Last game of the year here and you couldn’t ask for a better story. To send the fans out with a game that we won.”