SENDAI – Manabu Mima pitched his first career shutout and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles moved to within one win of bringing Sendai its first Japan Series after a 2-0 win over the Chiba Lotte Marines in Saturday’s Game 3 of the Pacific League Climax Series final stage.
Mima, who went 6-5 this season, allowed four hits and issued two walks, while striking out seven to give the Eagles a 3-1 lead in the series. As league champs, they received a one-win advantage and can clinch a Japan Series meeting with the Yomiuri Giants with a win or tie on Sunday.
Before a record Kleenex Stadium crowd of 24,396, Mima delivered Rakuten’s third straight impressive pitching performance. Ace Masahiro Tanaka pitched a shutout in Thursday’s 2-0 win, and rookie Takahiro Norimoto threw nine innings of one-run ball in Friday’s 4-2, extra-inning loss.
“Our pitchers were so good in Games 1 and 2 that I wanted to pitch into the late innings, too,” the 27-year-old Mima said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to go nine, however.”
On the brink of the highest pitch count of his career, Mima walked No. 3 hitter Tadahito Iguchi to open the ninth, but got cleanup man Toshiaki Imae to hit into a 4-6-3 double play before retiring Katsuya Kakunaka on an easy fly to seal it.
“The place was going nuts, and I was getting worked up as well,” Mima said. “So often, I’ve ruined games with leadoff walks, so I had a bad feeling about that. But after the double play, I was really relaxed.”
Takuya Furuya, a side-arm lefty, who revived his career this season as a starting pitcher, allowed two runs on four hits and a hit batsman in five-plus innings.
The Eagles broke through for two runs in the second on a double by Motohiro Shima. Furuya retired the first five batters he faced before furnishing Rakuten’s first base runner when he plunked Shintaro Masuda with two outs in the second.
Kazuo Matsui fell behind 0-2, but the switch hitter stayed on a changeup low and away and took it to right for an opposite-field single.
With runners on the corners, Furuya threw Shima two straight inside fastballs. The Eagles catcher fouled off the first, but the second one found too much of the strike zone and got hammered down the third-base line, just fair. The ball rolled into the corner and died there, and Matsui scored all the way from first.
“Furuya has really killed me on fastballs inside, so that’s what I was expecting,” Shima said.
“Had the sixth, seventh and eighth spots in our order done anything prior to this, we would be finished here. I’d had so many chances in this series to drive in runs and failed.”
Rakuten dodged a bullet in the top of the second, when Ikuhiro Kiyota belted a high 2-1 fastball, but didn’t get all of it as the Marines chance died on a fly to deep right.
“Like Tanaka and Norimoto, Mima’s trademark is throwing his slider away (to right-hand hitters),” Shima said. “But today he was really gutsy, working inside with his two-seamer to keep that in the batters’ minds. You do that and sometimes you’ll leave a fat pitch up there, but it allowed him to make the most of his slider.”
It was Mima’s first game since he left his Oct. 4 start here against the Lions due to discomfort in his right elbow.
“Frankly, I didn’t think I’d be ready in time for this game,” he said.
The Eagles are scheduled to start Wataru Karashima in Sunday afternoon’s Game 4 against Lotte rookie Takahiro Matsunaga. Karashima went 3-4 in the regular season, while Matsunaga, the Marines’ top draft pick last autumn, was 4-1. However, rain is forecast for Sendai.
Nomura to stay with Carp
Hiroshima Carp manager Kenjiro Nomura said Saturday he has agreed to take the mantle for a fifth season next year after accepting an offer from Carp owner Hajime Matsuda.
The contract extension for the 47-year-old Nomura, who had once contemplated stepping down, is for one year.
“I talked about calling it a day since I’ve been here for four years, but he (Matsuda) got angry with me and started calling me hardheaded. He gave me a lecture and after a long talk, I decided that I will continue,” said Nomura. “In any case, I want to build a winning team.”
The Carp finished fourth or lower for three consecutive years under Nomura’s watch from 2010 to 2012, but had a revival this season when they came third to land in the top half of the standings for the first time in 16 years.
“The young players are really competing for chances to play. Looking toward next season, I’ve taken on a positive approach and decided to give it my all,” Nomura said.
Hiroshima also made its first trip to the Climax Series, which got under way in 2007. The Carp lost 4-0 in the series to the Central League champion Yomiuri Giants.
“I was pleased that he was able to get the team back on its feet. The accumulation of hard work is paying off, and it’s only natural that he challenge for a fifth year,” Matsuda said.