The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles finally got some bang for their bucks at the plate, and found a surprise hero on the mound in the process.
The Eagles finally turned some of their hits into runs, and a valiant effort out of the bullpen by Kenny Ray helped preserve the lead for starter Manabu Mima as Rakuten defeated the Yomiuri Giants 5-1 in Game 3 of the Japan Series on Tuesday night at Tokyo Dome.
“It feels so good to beat the Giants twice in a row and win on the road,” Eagles manager Senichi Hoshino said.
The Eagles produced nine hits in each of the Series’ first two games, but had just two runs to show for their efforts.
Rakuten had 13 hits in Game 3, with every position player in the starting lineup finishing with at least one.
“For us getting 13 hits is a big explosion,” Hoshino said. “But tomorrow, I’m expecting an even bigger explosion.”
They turned that production into five runs, something they struggled to do in the first two games.
“Keep giving yourself chances and eventually you’re going to get a (big) hit here and there,” third baseman Casey McGehee said. “The more chances you get, the more chances something good happens.”
The win gives the Eagles a 2-1 lead in the series.
“We are trying to at least take the Series back to Sendai and win it before the home crowd,” Hoshino said during the winning manager’s interview following the game. “I hope you will interview me again tomorrow.”
Mima threw a four-hit shutout in his playoff debut during the Pacific League Climax Series and had held the Giants to just four singles on Tuesday before leaving the game after being hit with a come-backer off the bat of Yomiuri’s Shinnosuke Abe.
“It hit the top side of my left foot,” Mima said. “I don’t feel any pain right now. It’s probably just a bruise, but I have to go to the hospital tomorrow.”
Mima left the game with two outs in the sixth and Abe on second. Hoshino summoned Ray out of the bullpen and the Atlanta native recorded the final out of the frame and retired the side in order in the seventh. He gave up a home run to Kenji Yano to lead off the eighth, but got through the inning without further incident.
“I was up throwing, but not actually to get into the game until that happened,” Ray said of relieving Mima. “Then I turned it up a little bit.
“I was ready. I was already throwing. I just wasn’t preparing to actually go into the game until I got the word. I stayed in the bullpen and got as many (warmup tosses) as I needed to get ready.”
Overall Ray threw 2 1/3 innings of one-run ball on short notice.
“As far as location-wise and command-wise, it was pretty good,” Ray said of his outing. “I made one mistake trying to go in, but other than that, command was good.”
Mima still earned the win, having thrown 5 2/3 shutout innings. He struck out five and finished without issuing a walk.
“My teammates gave me four runs early, and it gave me a lot of space to breathe, and I was able to pitch more relaxed,” Mima said.
Rakuten continued to get production from its Nos. 2 and 3 hitters, Kazuya Fujita and Ginji Akaminai, who accounted for most of the offense.
“We played the way we usually play,” Akaminai said. “We just focused on playing our game.”
Fujita, hitting .417 in the series, went 2-for-4 and got the scoring started with a two-run single in the second inning. Akaminai collected three hits and drove in pair of runs with an RBI double in the second.
“Tonight we proved we can score and get a lot of hits,” Fujita said. “I’m happy my hit drove in the two runs that gave us the lead.”
The Giants managed just six hits on the night, with Yano’s home run the only one of the extra-base variety.
Starter Toshiya Sugiuchi lasted just 1 2/3 innings, giving up four runs in one of the shortest outings of his 12-year pro career in the loss.
“All we had to show from tonight’s effort is Yano’s home run,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “We have to do a lot better tomorrow or we’ll be in big trouble.”
The Eagles will try to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series when they send Jim Heuser to the mound to start Game 4 at the Big Egg. The Giants will counter with right-hander D.J. Houlton.
Rakuten can win the title by sweeping the two remaining games at Tokyo Dome, but have at least earned a return trip home to Sendai for a potential Game 6.
“Anytime you can come in and win a game on the road, that’s big,” McGehee said. “At least we’re sure of getting back to Sendai. That’s one thing. Hopefully we don’t have to use it, but we know that we at least have that in the back pocket.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.