NAGOYA – After losses in the first two games of the Japan Series, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks captain Hiroki Kokubo told reporters, “we’re not dead yet.”
Kokubo was proven right when Hitoshi Tamura’s bat finally sprang back to life.
Tamura broke out of a postseason slump with a two-run home run, and Tadashi Settsu gave the Hawks a solid start on the mound in a 4-2 win over the Chunichi Dragons in Game 3 of the Japan Series on Tuesday at Nagoya Dome.
“It’s a relief to finally get a win, especially on the road,” Hawks manager Koji Akiyama said. “This gives us confidence we can win here, and I think the momentum has shifted to our side.”
The Dragons still lead the series 2-1. With Softbank’s win, the road team has won all three games.
“I don’t think we played badly tonight, and we still hold a two-games-to-one lead in the series,” Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai said. “I’m not worried. We’re OK and we’ll be back tomorrow.”
Tamura was 3-for-4 with two RBIs after entering the contest with just three hits in the entire postseason.
“I felt really good tonight in the batter’s box, very comfortable,” Tamura said.
He recorded hits in his first three trips to the plate before striking out in his final at-bat.
“Today I just tried to set the table for the next batters,” Tamura said. “Everybody was moving well, that gives us momentum.”
Tamura wasn’t the only one who righted the ship. Catcher Toru Hosokawa was 3-for-4 with a solo homer, while Kokubo finished 2-for-4. Nobuhiro Matsuda only managed one hit, but it was an RBI single in the first that gave the Hawks an early lead.
Softbank ended the game with 12 hits after recording 12 over the first two games.
“We couldn’t come up with hits (in the first two games),” Kokubo said. “Honestly, I’m surprised. I think we surprised everyone.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Dragons catcher Motonobu Tanishige, who went 0-for-3 to fall to 0-for-30 this postseason. Hirokazu Ibata and Masahiro Araki drove in runs for the Dragons, who were held to four hits.
Chunichi had trouble mounting a sustained attack against Settsu, who threw seven innings of one-run ball for the win.
Settsu allowed four hits, struck out eight and walked two. He took a one-hitter into the sixth before giving up three consecutive hits, including Ibata’s RBI single.
“I knew if we didn’t win today, we would be in a pickle,” Settsu said. “So I just tried my best to keep us in the game and give us a chance to win.”
Relievers Takehito Kanazawa and Masahiko Morifuku combined to work the eighth, and Brian Falkenborg pitched a scoreless ninth for the save.
The Hawks’ normal closer, Takahiro Mahara, who gave up go-ahead runs in the 10th inning in each of the first two games, did not pitch.
Dragons starter Maximo Nelson took the loss, allowing three runs — two earned — on nine hits over 5⅔ innings. He struck out seven and walked one but struggled with control issues.
“My pitches didn’t run at all today,” Nelson said. “My control wasn’t good either. I entered the game with a mind-set to have a good performance, but it ended up being a regrettable outing.”
He issued a one-out walk to Yuichi Honda in the first, and later saw the inning extended by an error charged to third baseman Masahiko Morino. The mistake proved costly as Matsuda hit a two-out single to center that drove in Honda.
“It was a relief,” Matsuda said. “We wanted to get on the board first by any means.”
Softbank center fielder Yuya Hasegawa led off the fourth with an infield hit, and Tamura added to the lead with his homer to left.
“I wasn’t going to hesitate to swing if the pitch was hittable,” Tamura said. “The ball flew so well, it actually surprised me. I think it was a perfect shot.”
Chunichi pulled a run back on Ibata’s hit in the sixth, but Hosokawa went deep in the eighth to make the score 4-1.
An error on Hawks first baseman Kenji Akashi allowed Atsushi Fujii to reach third to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Araki drove him in with a sacrifice fly.
Game 4 is scheduled for Wednesday at Nagoya Dome.