NAGOYA – For three nights, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks were extremely rude house guests to the Chunichi Dragons.
Now that their first Japan Series title since 2003 is within reach, the Hawks won’t exactly be rolling out the red carpet when they get back home either.
Hiroki Yamada threw six shutout innings, and a three-run eighth put the game out of reach, as the Hawks beat the Dragons 5-0 in Game 5 of the Japan Series on Thursday to sweep all three games at Nagoya Dome and move within a win of the title.
“I was very nervous before the game but got more and more comfortable as the game moved along, especially since I was working with a lead,” Yamada said after his first Japan Series appearance. “I am very happy to have won my first Japan Series game. It is something I will never forget.”
The Hawks lead the series 3-2 and can finish things off with a victory in Game 6 in Fukuoka on Saturday. That is, if they can manage to win at home in a series where thus far, the visiting team has won every game.
“You never know in baseball,” Hawks manager Koji Akiyama said. “This is one series where home field has so far not been an advantage, but I hope that changes in the next game.”
The Dragons are hoping things stay the same when the teams meet at Yahoo Dome.
“This is very disappointing and embarrassing to lose all our home games,” Chunichi manager Hiromitsu Ochiai said. “We are obviously at a disadvantage now and will do our best to win the last two in Fukuoka. That is all we can do.”
Softbank’s triumph spoiled Ochiai’s final home game. Ochiai was informed in September that he would not be retained after his contract expires at the end of the season.
Hitoshi Tamura drove in a pair of runs with a single in the eighth, while Nobuhiro Matsuda and Toru Hosokawa also recorded RBIs.
Softbank had trouble turning their hits into runs early on, which left it up to Yamada to keep the Dragons at bay.
“I appreciate that I was given the opportunity to be on the mound in such an important game like this,” Yamada said. “I tried to enjoy it as well, I heard the loud chants for the opponents while I pitched, but I tried to look at it as a good thing for me and got them out.”
The 23-year-old lefty limited Chunichi to three hits and struck out five without walking a batter or allowing a runner past second.
For the third straight game, the Dragons couldn’t overcome their shortcomings at the plate. They were shut out and managed just five hits. Masahiro Araki’s sixth-inning double represented the only time Chunichi put a runner in scoring position.
Dragons starter Chen Wei-yin took the loss, and was charged with five runs on nine hits over seven-plus innings.
There was a scary moment in the fourth, when Dragons right fielder Masaaki Koike crashed into the wall while making a leaping grab. Koike was on the ground for a few minutes while a stretcher was brought out, but he left the field under his own power.
Softbank shortstop Munenori Kawasaki singled to lead off the the game, and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Yuichi Honda. Seiichi Uchikawa singled to right to move Kawasaki to third and Kokubo singled to left to make the score 1-0.
“I’m pleased that we took advantage of the first chance we got,” Kokubo said. “This is actually the same thing I said yesterday, though we want to win today, too.”
The Hawks scored again in the seventh, taking a 2-0 lead on an RBI single by Hosokawa, and added three more runs on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch and Tamura’s two-run single.
Game 6 is scheduled for Saturday in Fukuoka.
“We have the momentum now, even though the road team has won every game,” Akiyama said. “We should be able to win one at home and wrap up the series.”