Marines cage Lions to reach final stage of PL Climax Series

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Many people would jump at a chance for an autumn getaway in Miyzaki.

Many people, but not Daichi Suzuki. Miyazaki’s nice and all, but only place the Chiba Lotte Marines shortstop wants to go right now is Sendai, where the temperature won’t get higher than 21 for at least the next 10 days.

Hopefully, he won’t forget to pack a jacket.

Suzuki hit a rare home run to lead off the fifth inning, Katsuya Kakunaka provided some insurance with a two-run triple in the eighth, and the Marines got four good innings out of their bullpen in a 4-1 win over the Seibu Lions in the third and deciding game of the Pacific League Climax Series First Stage on Monday at Seibu Dome. Lotte won the series 2-1.

“If we won, we’d go to Sendai (to continue to postseason), and if we lost we’d go to Miyazaki (to play in the fall league), and I was telling Kaku-san that we should go to Sendai, not Miyazaki,” Suzuki said.

The Marines will now face the PL champion Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in the final stage beginning on Thursday. The winner of that series, at Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium, will represent the Pa League in the Japan Series.

“We talked to our guys about leaving here with our heads up no matter what,” Marines manager Tsutomu Ito said. “We were going to play the way we’ve played all year, and not be too timid.

“Although we still have one more mountain to climb (to reach the Japan Series), I’m as excited as if we’d just won a championship.”

The Eagles have an automatic one-game advantage to begin the best-of-seven final stage by virtue of winning the PL pennant. Rakuten also has undefeated ace Masahiro Tanaka (24-0, 1.27 ERA) rested and ready to go.

“Now it’s big game time,” Marines slugger Craig Brazell said. “Everybody turns it up a little bit more. We just have to go out there and hit his mistakes.”

Lotte has faced these odds before.

In 2010, the third-place Marines won the first stage at Seibu Dome and overcame the PL champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ one-game advantage in the final stage at Yahoo Dome. The ‘Miracle Marines’ went on to beat the Chunichi Dragons in seven games to win the Japan Series.

“Of course, we want to do that again,” Lotte third baseman Toshiaki Imae said.

Monday’s game was much more competitive than the first two of the series, which saw the Marines win 11-1 in Game 1, and Lions roar back with a 15-0 victory in Game 2.

Neither squad had any runs on the board in Game 3, until Suzkui’s shot to lead off the fifth.

“We were already in the fifth inning and Yuki (Karakawa) was doing his best, so we definitely wanted to get on the board first,” Suzuki said, referring to the Lotte starting pitcher. “So I was just trying to get on base. It was just by chance that I hit a home run.”

Suzuki isn’t much of a home run hitter, with only six in 627 professional at-bats (postseason included), but he’s homered three times against the Lions at Seibu Dome during his short career.

“Daichi’s hit completely changed the atmosphere of our team, and Karakawa had a 1-2-3 frame in the following inning,” Lotte’s Tadahito Iguchi said. “Then we completely seized the momentum.”

Iguchi led off the sixth with a solo homer to make the score 2-0 in the Marines’ favor. He ended the three-game series 3-for-9 with a pair of home runs and four RBIs.

The Lions pulled within a run during the bottom of the sixth, but Kakunaka put the game away with his two-run three-bagger off reliever Hideaki Wakui in the eighth.

“I was going to swing at whatever he threw if it was hittable,” Kakunaka said. “I think it was a mistake pitch. It was pretty hittable.”

Karakawa threw five-plus innings of one-run ball to pick up the win for Lotte. He was lifted from the game after allowing the Lions to put runners on the corners with no outs in the sixth.

Tatsuya Uchi, one of the heroes from the 2010 team, took over from there and got the Marines out of the inning with the lead, despite Hideto Asamura driving in a run with a sacrifice fly.

“I thought it was just going to be a normal fly ball to right,” Uchi said. “I was thinking that I could give up a run in that situation and tried to prevent the first-base runner from coming home.”

Seibu pitcher Kazuhisa Makita gave up two runs over 5 1/3 innings and was charged with the loss.

The Lions out-hit the Marines 8-7, but failed to turn that production into runs. Seibu’s Yasuyuki Kataoka was the only player on either team to record a multi-hit game, finishing 3-for-4.

“There were some balls that were well-struck but ended up not being hits,” Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe said. “We were a little unlucky. We lost, but our players did well. It’s frustrating, but our guys battled until the end. This is a short series, so it was just unfortunate.”

As the Lions head into the offseason, the next order of business for the Marines is to find a way to win Game 1, with the Eagles likely to send Tanaka to the mound, and avoid falling into an quick 0-2 hole in the series.

“That’ll be big for that series, to even it at 1-1,” Brazell said. “You can’t worry about who is on the mound, you just have to go up there, get a pitch to hit, and try to drive it and put it in play. That’s the big thing.”

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.