FUKUOKA – In a sense, the Hawks know how big it is to do damage to an opponent first in a postseason more than anybody else in Japanese baseball.
After all, they’ve historically dropped Game 1s and this has spoiled their ambition of advancing to the Japan Series.
But this time, the 2011 Pacific League champions got off to an ideal start with a 4-2 win over the Seibu Lions in Game 1 of the PL Climax Series final stage on Thursday night.
Pennant-winning Fukuoka Softbank has an automatic one-win advantage, meaning the Hawks hold a 2-0 series lead.
Sixteen-game winner Tsuyoshi Wada pitched a rock-solid seven innings, while hit-machine Seiichi Uchikawa had two extra-base hits to guide the Hawks to their first Game 1 playoff victory since 2004.
The southpaw Wada (1-0) allowed just four hits and a run, silencing the Lions’ offense for seven innings on 101 pitches.
“I felt the heated atmosphere, so I can’t remember when the last time was for me to get this tired,” said Wada, who went 2-0 with a 0.76 ERA against Seibu in the regular season, after the game. “Since we have the (one-win) advantage, it’s so huge to have taken this first game.
“I knew the Lions rolled into this series by winning in the first stage, but I was going to (halt it).”
There seemed to a curse against the Hawks, who haven’t played in a Japan Series after 2003, early in the game. They led off the first two frames with doubles, but ended up with no runs both times.
But it was Uchikawa, a newcomer to the team this year, who turned things around. The 2011 batting champion drove in two runs with a triple in the third.
“I was going to come up with a hit by any means,” Uchikawa said of the RBI triple. “We missed the chances in the first and second, so I was relieved to come up with that one.”
The ex-Yokohama BayStar, who joined the PL club via free agency this past offseason, went 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
The Hawks somehow struggled to widen the lead as Lions lefty starter Kazuyuki Hoashi had an elusive performance.
But Softbank finally added much-needed runs in the sixth, when Hitoshi Tamura came up with a two-run RBI infield hit.
Takeya Nakamura belted a solo homer — his second dinger in this postseason — in the seventh and Seibu added another in the following inning. But it was too little, too late.
Brian Falkenborg and Takahiro Mahara relieved Wada in the last two innings to end the contest.
Hoashi (0-1) gave up six hits and four runs in 5⅓ innings.
“It was a good game,” Hawks manager Koji Akiyama said after the game. “As we’ve finished the first game, I think we’ll be able to play our normal game from tomorrow.”
Game 2 starts at 6 p.m. at Yahoo Dome on Friday. Tadashi Settsu takes the hill for Softbank, while Takayuki Kishi starts for Seibu.
Epstein fires Quade
Theo Epstein is looking for a new manager to lead the Chicago Cubs. He knows exactly the type of candidate he wants, too.
In his first major on-field move since becoming the team’s president of baseball operations, Epstein fired Cubs manager Mike Quade on Wednesday and began the search for his replacement.
The move came one day after the club introduced new general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting/player development head Jason McLeod.
Epstein, who joined the Cubs a little more than a week ago, quickly laid out the qualifications he has in mind for the team’s next manager. One of those is managerial and/or coaching experience in the major leagues, which would eliminate a popular fan choice in Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.
“The next manager must have leadership and communication skills; he must place an emphasis on preparation and accountability; he must establish high standards and a winning culture; he must have integrity and an open mind; and he must have managerial or coaching experience at the major league level,” Epstein said.