CHIBA – A night after breaking out the bubbly to celebrate their first ever Pacific League title, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles were understandably in need of a collective pick-me-up during a sluggish performance against the second-place Chiba Lotte Marines.
Left-hander Takahiro Matsunaga (4-1) allowed four hits and struck out six over six strong innings, Saburo Omura hit a two-run homer and Lotte walloped Rakuten 6-0 Friday night in Chiba.
The opening run scored in the fourth at QVC Marine Field.
After back-to-back singles by Ikuhiro Kiyota and Toshiaki Imae, with one out and runners at the corners Daichi Suzuki broke his bat and hit a fly to shallow right that deflected off the glove of chasing right fielder Takero Okajima. Kiyota scored from third, while Imae had to hold up and was forced easily at second base.
The Eagles had several opportunities, including when they put two runners on with no outs in the sixth, but Casey McGehee struck out swinging to end the threat with runners on the corners.
Kiyota reached third to open the home half of the sixth when center fielder Aoi Enomoto dropped a routine fly. With one out, Omura then hit a 2-2 fastball off reliever Daisuke Kato into the stands in left to make it 3-0.
With runners at first and third and one out, another runner scored when first baseman Ginji Akamanai threw wildly over the head of catcher Tadashi Ishimine on Shota Ishimine’s grounder, and Takeshi Kanazawa added a sacrifice fly for good measure.
Suzuki had a leadoff double down the left field line in the eighth and scored from third on Kanazawa’s two-out RBI single.
Eagles starter Takashi Kawai (3-2) yielded one run on five hits in five innings to take the loss.
In fairytale fashion, the Eagles have risen from the ashes after the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, led by manager Senichi Hoshino, who is in his third year at the helm.
In his third season, Hoshino guided the team to its first pennant. It is Hoshino’s fourth pennant as a manager following Central League titles with the Chunichi Dragons in 1988 and 1999, and with the Hanshin Tigers in 2003. He has never won the Japan Series.
The Eagles’ 79-54-2 record, thus far, is a far cry from their inaugural season in 2005 when they finished with a dismal 38-97-1 mark, 51½ games out of first place.
The Eagles, whose only other postseason appearance came in 2009 when the team came second under skipper Katsuya Nomura, will appear in the final stage of the Climax Series from Oct. 17 in Sendai.
As the PL winner, Rakuten gets a one-win advantage against the winner of the Climax Series’ first stage between the second- and third-place teams. The first team with four wins in the six-game format advances to the Japan Series.