SENDAI – Masahiro Tanaka’s unbeaten year continued on Thursday, when the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles ace defeated the Chiba Lotte Marines 2-0 to win Game 1 of the Pacific League Climax Series Final Stage.
Before a Kleenex Stadium-record crowd of 24,332, Tanaka’s shutout lifted the league champion Eagles to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. As champions, they have a one-win advantage.
Tanaka, who went a record 24-0 in the regular season, pitched a seven-hit shutout — his third complete-game victory in three career postseason games. The right-hander walked one and struck out nine.
“It was a joy to be able to play baseball in a game that everyone was psyched up for that played out like the way it did,” said Tanaka, who was pushed to the limit by a revival game from Marines ace Yoshihisa Naruse.
Ginji Akaminai broke the ice, leading off the fourth inning with a home run that was just the Eagles’ second hit off Naruse, who allowed a run in seven innings.
Naruse, who had been unable to get anybody out since June, fought off the Eagles through three innings before Akaminai turned on a 1-1 inside fastball and drove it several rows back into the right-field seats.
“I didn’t feel nervous, because I worked hard on that,” Akaminai said of his postseason debut. “If you go about business as usual, good things happen.
“When Tanaka pitches, we play with some confidence. He doesn’t lose.”
Casey McGehee drove in an insurance run in the eighth against the Lotte bullpen.
Naruse went seven innings for the first time since June 8, allowing a run or less for the first time since May 12. He gave up six hits and two walks while striking out four, but suffered the loss.
“I wasn’t real good at the start, but I was able to make some adjustments on the mound and was pitching well from the middle innings,” Naruse said. “Based on tonight, my next time out (in this series) may create some talking points.”
Tanaka, who hung several breaking balls up in the zone that the Marines watched, nearly paid for one in the top of the seventh.
Daichi Suzuki, who hit five home runs during the regular season, but had a game-changer in Monday’s first stage-clinching win over Seibu, drove a high slider from Tanaka just foul before striking out.
The Marines were gifted a one-out runner in the top of the eighth when former major leaguer Kazuo Matsui made an error that put speedster Yoshifumi Okada on first.
But after seven-plus innings of good at-bats by Lotte hitters, No. 3 man Tadahito Iguchi struck out swinging at three pitches out of the zone.
Tanaka then dodged another bullet when Toshiaki Imae put a good swing on a first-pitch slider in the heart of the zone and drove it to the wall in right for the third out.
The Eagles finally broke through for an insurance run in the eighth after Naruse left the mound. Lotte lefty Wil Ledezma allowed a leadoff infield single and a one-out walk before McGehee hammered a high fastball off right-hander Yuji Nishino into left for a 2-0 lead.
The run continued Rakuten’s streak of scoring at least two runs in each of Tanaka’s starts this season.
“Scoring just one run is a killer, even for Masahiro,” Eagles skipper Senichi Hoshino said.
Game 2 on Friday will see Takahiro Norimoto, who set the Rakuten record for wins by a rookie with 15, against Seth Greisinger — who twice led the Central League in wins but has struggled with shoulder trouble this year.
“It’s said we can’t win when Tanaka doesn’t pitch, so we need to go out and disprove that,” Eagles captain Motohiro Shima said.