TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – Tadashi Settsu was a long way from Fukuoka, wearing his road uniform and standing on the mound in another team’s stadium.
Despite all that, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks ace felt right at home.
Settsu threw eight scoreless innings, and reliever Masahiko Morifuku pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth to help the reigning Japan Series champion Hawks edge the Seibu Lions 2-1 in Game 1 of the first stage of the Pacific League Climax Series on Saturday at Seibu Dome.
“I wasn’t really thinking too much about anything as I pitched,” Settsu said. “My mind was blank. Even after I got some run support, I kept pitching as if it didn’t happen.”
The victory gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. Softbank can advance to the final stage against Hokkaido Nippon Ham with a win or a tie in Game 2 on Sunday.
Settsu has owned the Lions at their place, improving to 7-0 with a 1.60 ERA and 39 strikeouts in his last eight starts at Seibu Dome.
Settsu is 6-1 overall in seven starts against the Lions this season.
“We knew he was a good pitcher,” Seibu manager Hisanobu Watanabe said. “When you play like we did against him early in a game, you get beaten. So at the end of the day, we should’ve played differently.”
On Saturday, Settsu allowed four hits and struck out five. He left the game after the eighth, and that’s when things got interesting.
Reliever Brian Falkenborg walked Takeya Nakamura to start the inning and gave up a double to former teammate Jose Ortiz that put runners at second and third. He then walked Esteban German to load the bases, prompting Hawks manager Koji
Akiyama to bring lefty Morifuku out of the bullpen with the bases loaded and none out.
“I have no excuses,” Falkenborg said. “That’s just not very good pitching. “I just gotta throw strikes. Coming in, 2-0 lead, you gotta put the ball over the plate. I was extremely lucky today that Morifuku came in and did an outstanding job.”
Lions pinch hitter Chris Carter hit an RBI groundout to cut the lead to one, but Tatsuyuki Uemoto popped out to short for the second out of the inning. Morifuku then retired Hisashi Takayama to end the game.
“I was pretty nervous out there,” Morifuku said. “I was told to be the back up (in case Falkenborg struggled), so I was ready to go.”
The Hawks needed a good performance out of Settsu, because they didn’t do much with their bats. Softbank had six hits after three innings, but didn’t record another until the ninth.
Kenta Imamiya gave the Hawks the lead with a squeeze bunt in the second and Seiichi Uchikawa doubled the advantage with an RBI single in the third.
Seibu starter Kazuhisa Makita kept the Hawks at bay with a valiant outing in defeat. The submarine hurler went the distance, allowing two runs on seven hits and striking out five. He retired 13 consecutive batters at one point.
Hawks third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda collected the first of his two hits leading off the second. Matsuda took third on a hit by Hitoshi Tamura and came home when Imamiya was able to connect with a low pitch to lay down his squeeze bunt.
“I tried to make contact by any means,” Imamiya said.
Yuichi Honda kicked off the third with a triple and Uchikawa’s RBI single later in the inning made the score 2-0.
“Honda came up with the triple and (Yuya) Hasegawa didn’t follow (with a hit), so I wanted to do whatever it took to give ourselves a run,” Uchikawa said.
Before coming out, Settsu pitched himself into a jam in the eighth. He walked Takuya Hara to start the inning, then retired Hideto Asamura.
Shogo Akiyama reached on an error by first baseman Kenji Akashi, leaving Settsu to deal with runners on first and second with one out and Hiroyuki Nakajima and two-time defending PL home run champion Nakamura due up in the order.
Nakajima worked the count full, but hit a grounder to third, where Matsuda scooped it up and started an inning-ending double play, leaving Nakamura on deck.
The Hawks will try to wrap up the series on in Game 2 on Sunday. Softbank rookie Shota Takeda (8-1, 1.07 ERA) will take the mound against Seibu’s Takayuki Kishi (11-12, 2.45).
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.
Wada carries Dragons
Kazuhiro Wada drove in three runs and scored two to lead the Chunichi Dragons to a 6-1 victory over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in Game 1 of the Central League Climax Series’ first stage on Saturday. The Dragons can now clinch a spot in the second stage with either a win or a tie.
Wada opened the scoring with a two-run homer in the fourth inning after Swallows southpaw Masahiro Ishikawa walked the leadoff man. Wada singled with one out in the sixth and scored the Dragons’ third run, and singled in a run in their three-run seventh.
“I was just trying to build a rally,” Wada said. “I wasn’t thinking about who was coming up behind me and was able to make a very smooth swing.”
The right-handed hitter dove into a low sinker over the plate and drove it into the stands in left.
Right-hander Kenichi Nakata allowed three hits over five scoreless innings to beat the Swallows for the third straight time this year. He struck out five without walking a batter and also set up a scoring opportunity with a one-out double in the third.
Ishikawa, who was 1-1 against Chunichi this season, lasted just four innings, allowing four hits and two walks. He scraped out of jams in the first and third innings when he couldn’t throw strikes, and opened the fourth in similar fashion by walking Tony Blanco on five pitches.
The lefty was pulled for a pinch hitter with two on and two out in the top of the fifth, but Nakata retired veteran Atsushi Fujimoto for the final out.
In the sixth, Wada reached on an infield single, went to second on a groundout and scored on Takehiro Donoue’s single.
The Swallows threatened to tie the game in the top of the seventh, when CL home run leader Wladimir Balentien went deep to open the inning off rookie right-hander Shinji Tajima. A pair of walks put the potential tying runs on base with one out, but Takuya Asao, the CL’s 2011 MVP, stopped Yakult with two straight outs.
Dragons leadoff man Yohei Oshima, who went 3-for-5, singled to open the seventh against lefty Ryo Hidaka, who loaded the bases with another hit and a walk. With one out, Wada singled to start the runs flowing again. Hirokazu Ibata followed Wada with a sacrifice fly, and pinch hitter Ryosuke Hirata singled in the hosts’ final run.
Trailing 6-1 in the eighth, the Swallows threatened against right-hander Jorge Sosa, but Daisuke Yamai got the final out with the bases loaded and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to earn the save.
It was just the second time in 11 games against the Swallows at Nagoya Dome this year that the Dragons scored more than two runs. Yakult went 6-3 with one tie there during the regular season.