TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – The Pacific League pennant is staying in Fukuoka.
Shuhei Fukuda broke a scoreless tie with an RBI single in the sixth inning, Kenji Akashi drove in another run with a triple in the same frame, and the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks secured their second-consecutive PL pennant with a 3-0 victory over the Seibu Lions on Saturday afternoon at Seibu Dome.
“I’m relieved,” Hawks manager Koji Akiyama said after the game. “The players performed at their best from the beginning, and I am pretty happy about that.”
The Hawks stormed the field after the final out, tossing Akiyama into the air during the traditional doage and paying their respects to team owner Masayoshi Son and president Sadaharu Oh.
“I’m really happy,” shortstop Munenori Kawasaki said. “For starters, I’m glad we were able to give the manager another doage.”
The Hawks beat out the Lions on the final day of the season to win last year’s pennant race. This time they got the job done much earlier.
“It’s nice,” pitcher D.J. Houlton said. “We can just kind of play our game and get ready for the postseason instead of playing tense and stuff like that. Hopefully it’ll help us this year.”
Softbank isn’t ready to look ahead to the playoffs just yet, despite having wrapped up the PL title with a few weeks to spare.
“First, we have to finish the regular season,” Kawasaki said. “We’ll play at our best the rest of the way.”
Along with the pennant, the Hawks clinched a first-round bye in the PL Climax Series. Softbank will host the winner of the first-stage — a matchup between the second and third-placed teams — in the second stage. The Hawks will have an automatic one-game advantage when that series begins Nov. 3 at Yahoo Dome.
“It never gets old,” Akiyama said of winning the pennant. “This year in particular, there was the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, and we wanted to give the fans and sufferers some courage. So this is a really special victory.”
With their magic number sitting at one, and Son and Oh cheering them on, the Hawks stepped on the field primed for a celebration.
“This is really the best feeling,” Son said after the game. “This team certainly is special.”
The Hawks struggled to score early, but a quality start by pitcher Sho Iwasaki kept the game close. Iwasaki (6-2) caged the Lions with seven shutout innings on the mound, allowing three hits and striking out five.
Brian Falkenborg worked a scoreless eighth, and closer Takahiro Mahara nailed down the win in the ninth for his 17th save of the season.
Yuya Hasegawa, who finished 3-for-3, got things started for the Softbank batters with a double in the sixth. After Hitoshi Tamura grounded out, Fukuda put the Hawks ahead with his one-out single.
“He (Lions starter Takayuki Kishi) fooled me with a change-up in the last at-bat,” Fukuda said. “Because I let a bases-loaded chance get away in the last at-bat, I felt I needed to do something this time up,” he added, referring to the fourth inning when he grounded into fielder’s choice with the bases loaded.
Akashi followed Fukuda with his run-scoring triple to right field.
“I got jammed a little, so it’s a good thing it flew,” said Akashi, who was 2-for-4. “I was going to follow Fukuda and I’m pleased I was able to do that.”
The Hawks padded their advantage in the seventh, with Nobuhiro Matsuda driving in Yuichi Honda with a sacrifice fly.
Kishi (7-8) took the loss after allowing a pair of runs on seven hits over 5⅔ innings.
Fighters, Marines tie
Yang Dai-kang homered for the second time in as many games and Yoshio Itoi hit a game-tying RBI single in the eighth inning as a 23-hit slugfest between the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and the Chiba Lotte Marines ended in an 11-inning 2-2 tie at QVC Marine Field on Saturday.
Eagles 4, Buffaloes 2
Dragons 4, Tigers 3
At Koshien Stadium, Ryosuke Hirata had a game-tying solo homer in the fourth inning and Tony Blanco delivered the tiebreaker with a solo blast in the sixth.
Giants 6, Carp 2
At Tokyo Dome, Hisayoshi Chono hit a tiebreaking RBI single in the seventh inning and Ryota Wakiya had a bases-clearing double to pad the lead in the eighth.
BayStars 10, Swallows 3
At Yokohama Stadium, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo homered and drove in four runs to power Yokohama.