Hawks pull within a win of punching ticket to Japan Series

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

All he needed was one strong swing. After the inning, he ended up coming out of the dugout to wave his hat to the excited fans.

Pinch hitter Nobuhiko Matsunaka smacked the first pitch from Seibu reliever Kazuhisa Makita into the right-field stands for a game-insuring grand
slam in the bottom of the eighth inning to guide the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks to a 7-2 victory over the Seibu Lions in Game 2 of the Pacific
League Climax Series final stage on Friday night.

League champ Softbank entered the series with one-win advantage and is now one win away from advancing to the Japan Series for the first time since 2003.

“I’m the one who’s most excited,” said Matsunaka, a former Triple Crown winner, after the game at Yahoo Dome.” I was determined to come
up with a hit no matter who would be on the mound anyway.”

With Seibu up 2-1, the Hawks successfully tied the game on an Alex Cabrera sacrifice fly and took the lead on Nobuhiro Matsuda’s solo homer in the sixth.

The Hawks loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth. While Seibu sent closer Makita to the hill, Softbank skipper Koji Akiyama didn’t hesitate
to dispatch 37-year-old veteran Matsunaka to the batter’s box.

“We got nobody but Matsunaka in that situation,” Akiyama said. “He did a hell of a job.”

Matsunaka had no hesitation on his part, either. The left-handed hitter swung sharply at Makita’s fastball, sending it over the fence for the
knockout punch.

“I’ve been mostly used as a pinch hitter from the beginning of this year,” said Matsunaka, who has been plagued by a series of injuries in recent
years, including a broken bone in his right knee this year. “So I know how difficult it is to go out there and come up with something as a pinch
hitter. But I was going to go aggressively from the first pitch.”

Seiichi Uchikawa, one of the Game 1 heroes, drove in the game’s first run for the Hawks in the opening frame.

Seibu quickly responded and went ahead 2-1 in the following inning.

Lions starter Takayuki Kishi, who was 0-4 with a 5.65 ERA against the Hawks in the regular season, gradually got better, utilizing his
signature curveball and taming Softbank offense after the first.

But the Hawks finally caught the skinny right-hander and retook the lead on Matsuda’s dinger in the sixth.

“I got blank in my head,” said Matsuda, who was second in the PL with 25 homers this season, of his go-ahead shot. “I can’t remember what kind
of pitch that was or anything, because I got too excited. It was a great feeling anyway.”

Settsu (1-0) pitched for seven innings, allowing five hits and two runs. He fanned six batters and tossed 110 pitches in the win. Kishi (0-1) gave
up three runs and five hits, striking out six, in six innings for the loss.

“I was nervous at the beginning, but after I gave up the runs, I could work defiantly,” said Settsu, who was converted into a
starter this season. “And as I kept pitching with patient, our offense gave me run support. I was so pleased about it.”

Takahiro Mahara worked again in the ninth inning to close out the game.

Munenori Kawsaki went 2-for-3, scored a run and had a walk for Softbank.

Game 3 will start at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Hawks’ Toshiya Sugiuchi and the Lions’ Hideaki Wakui are slated to start.

Swallows top Dragons


Norichika Aoki hit a tiebreaking RBI single in the fifth inning, Tony Barnette threw 2⅓ scoreless innings for the win in relief and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows edged the Chunichi Dragons 2-1 in Game 3 of final stage of the Central League Climax Series on Friday.

With their second straight victory, the second-place Swallows evened the series at two games apiece against the CL champion Dragons, which received an automatic one-win advantage as the pennant winner.

Ryosuke Morioka opened the scoring with an RBI single in the second inning but Chunichi tied it at 1-1 on Yohei Oshima’s run-scoring single in the fourth at Nagoya Dome.

Aoki hit a one-out single to right for the go-ahead run after rookie Tetsuto Yamada drew a leadoff walk in the fifth.

The Dragons had a chance when they loaded the bases in the sixth, but Takehiko Oshimoto escaped the jam and dug himself out of a first-and third situation with one out in the seventh.

Lefty starter Kyohei Muranaka allowed one run over 3⅓ innings. Lim Chang Yong closed out for the save. Daisuke Yamai took the loss after yielding two runs in 4⅓ innings.

The first team to reach four wins will book a spot in the best-of-seven Japan Series.