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Hawks look to Wada to close out Japan Series at home

by Jason Coskrey and Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writers

Fukuoka Softbank Hawks second baseman Yuichi Honda will celebrate his 27th birthday on Saturday.

If he can also help his team win the Japan Series, well that’d be the icing on the cake.

Honda and the Hawks returned home Friday and held a two-hour practice at Yahoo Dome in preparation for Game 6 of the Japan Series, which is scheduled for Saturday. Softbank can clinch the title with a win.

“I want to make it a good day by doing well in the game,” Honda said. “It’s kind of weird because I’m usually in fall camp (on my birthday), but we’re still playing. I feel fortunate.”

The Hawks hold a 3-2 advantage in the series after winning all three games in Nagoya.

“We’d like to keep our momentum going,” Hawks captain Hiroki Kokubo said.

Softbank’s Tsuyoshi Wada is expected to get the start opposite Central League co-wins leader Kazuki Yoshimi. Wada delivered the Hawks’ last title with a victory in Game 7 of the 2003 Japan Series and has a chance to win the deciding game again.

“Hopefully, I can make that happen,” he said.

Wada struck out eight over eight innings of one-run ball in the series opener. He was in control until allowing a game-tying solo homer to Kazuhiro Wada in the sixth inning. Chunichi would go on to win 2-1 in 10 innings.

“Last time out, I gave them the momentum with one big home run,” Wada said. “I hope it doesn’t happen again this time.”

Wada will be facing Chunichi for the fourth time this year and says he knows what to expect.

“I faced them twice during interleague,” Wada said. “I had the opportunity to start in Game 1 as well. Also, I’ve watched them play in the following four games. So I have a basic idea of how they are.”

The Dragons also worked out Saturday for about two hours.

They were seemingly in control of the series after winning the first two games on the road, before three straight losses at their home stadium put them on the brink of elimination.

Chunichi manager Hiromitsu Ochiai wasn’t happy with his club after the latest setback, a 5-0 defeat in Game 5, left the team with no more room for error.

“Our players don’t try to come through until they’re up against the wall,” Ochiai said after Game 5. “That’s how they’ve been winning. So maybe it’s good. If we lose we’re done, and if we win, then we’ll just have another game. It’s as simple as that.”

Chunichi will be looking for another strong outing from Yoshimi, who was charged with one run on seven hits over 6⅔ innings in his win in Game 2.

If he delivers again, it would set the stage for a deciding seventh game on Sunday in Fukuoka, not that Softbank wants things to get that far.

“You have up to two games, and if we win tomorrow, that’ll be it,” Honda said. “So we want go out there and not be too afraid of making mistakes.

“That’s how we’ve been playing all year. Whether we win or lose will be revealed in the end. We would certainly like to finish as the winner.”