NISHINOMIYA, HYOGO PREF. – Kila Ka’aihue came through big time with a tiebreaking three-run homer and Kenta Maeda went seven innings on one-run ball as the Hiroshima Carp pounded the Hanshin Tigers 8-1 in Game 1 of the Central League Climax Series First Stage on Saturday.
The third-place Carp took a 1-0 lead against the second-place Tigers in the best-of-three series. Hiroshima can book a spot in the final stage of the CLCS with a win on Sunday.
Maeda and Tigers rookie Shintaro Fujinami held their own over the first three innings until an RBI single by Ryuhei Matsuyama with none out in the fourth at Koshien Stadium.
Eishin Soyogi and Ka’aihue hit back-to-back singles leading off the inning to put runners at first and second and Matsuyama followed with a single to right to make it 1-0.
The Tigers tied it up in the bottom half on a Ryota Imanari run-scoring single. That was the first run Maeda surrendered this year at Koshien Stadium over 20 innings.
After singles by Maeda and Ryosuke Kikuchi, Ka’aihue blasted Fujinami’s 2-1 cutter into the seats in right with two outs in the fifth for a 4-1 lead.
“It was a cutter; he threw it a couple of times in my previous at-bats. Just got a good swing,” said Ka’aihue.
“I was just trying to get the guy in from second, first of all. I was just fortunate enough to really barrel that one out.”
Yoshihiro Maru and Takahiro Iwamoto hit a solo shot and three-run drive, respectively, for the knockout punch in the ninth inning.
Maeda, who went 15-7 with a league-best 2.10 ERA in 26 starts this season, scattered five hits, all singles, struck out five and walked two.
“Maeda really set the tone of the game. (Ki’aihue) really came through for us too. We played some good baseball. It was a huge confidence boost,” said Carp manager Kentaro Nomura.
The 19-year-old Fujinami, who gave up four runs and seven hits in five innings, is the first rookie to enter the league out of high school to start in the postseason since the Central League’s Climax Series began in 2007.
The winner of the first stage will face the Yomiuri Giants in the final stage of the CLCS starting Oct. 16. The Giants get an automatic one-win advantage in the six-game format as the CL pennant winners.
“If you lose, saying anything becomes an excuse. We have to reset and get the win tomorrow,” said Tigers skipper Yutaka Wada.