NISHINOMIYA, HYOGO PREF. – Shota Takeda left Fukuoka Softbank Hawks fans singing in the rain in his Japan Series debut.
The young right-hander threw seven innings of one-run ball and relievers Ryota Igarashi and Dennis Sarfate carried the load the rest of the way as the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks pulled even in the Japan Series with a 2-1 victory over the Hanshin Tigers in front of a crowd of 45,259 on Sunday night at Koshien Stadium.
“We’d taken a loss (in Game 1), so we wanted to go home with at least one win here,” Takeda said.
Takeda was cheered on by an enthusiastic red-clad contingent of Hawks fans throughout the game. They were still in the stands in left field long after it was over, waving their flags and singing cheer songs through a steady, though not hard, rain that was accompanied by some very bright lightning flashes and a few loud cracks of thunder.
They’ll do their cheering indoors the next few nights as the series, which is tied 1-1, shifts to Fukuoka for the next three contests. Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday at Yafuoku Dome with a start time of 6:30 p.m.
“It will be good to get home, and I know one of those games could be my last as manager,” said Hawks manager Koji Akiyama, who is stepping down after the series. “So I am hoping we can win three more.”
Takeda hasn’t quite lived up to the “Kyushu’s Darvish” label he wore coming out of high school in 2011, but he was on top of his game on Sunday.
“He’s a good pitcher,” said Tigers first baseman Mauro Gomez. “He’s got a good fastball and a pretty good curve.”
Takeda looked as if he might flirt with perfection, retiring the first 17 batters he faced before Keisuke Kano managed to drive a pinch-hit single to left with two outs in the sixth.
“The others told me when I gave up the hit, but I didn’t even notice until then,” Takeda said. “I wasn’t really aware of it.”
He allowed his only run in that inning and then protected a one-run advantage in the seventh. He left the game after seven strong innings, having allowed three hits with five strikeouts and a walk. The game marked his first-career appearance at Koshien and against the Tigers.
“I was very nervous at first but then I settled in and actually enjoyed pitching here tonight,” Takeda said. “It was fun.”
Hanshin hung around all night and made things really interesting late. Akihito Fujii singled and Tsuyoshi Nishioka walked, both with two outs, in the eighth against Igarashi to put the tying run at second. Igarashi escaped when Hiroki Uemoto popped out on the first pitch he saw.
Takashi Toritani led off the ninth with a hit off Sarfate, who retired the next three batters to nail down the save.
“My heart was beating fast,” Akiyama said. “But we believed in Sarfate and wanted him to manage to hold on for the team.”
Hawks first baseman Lee Dae-ho hit a towering home run in the fourth, and Seiichi Uchikawa finished 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI single in the victory.
Hanshin will have a day to regroup before trying to get back on track in Game 3.
“It’s 1-1 now,” Gomez said. “It’s tied. Just have to go out there and try to do our best. Play hard and try to win.”
The Tigers managed just five hits on the night. Two were by Toritani, who was 2-for-4.
Tigers starter Atsushi Nomi faced a 1-0 deficit after just five pitches and eventually gave up another run in the losing effort. Nomi allowed six hits and struck out four in his six innings of work.
Yuki Yanagita began the game with a single to center and moved to second on Kenta Imamiya’s sacrifice bunt. Uchikawa doubled to center to drive in the first run of the game.
“We gained confidence right away after Yanagita started the game with a hit, and Uchikawa was able to come through with a timely hit after the successful sacrifice by Imamiya,” Akiyama said. “We got the lead after only three batters.”
Hulking Korean slugger Lee crushed the 131-kph slider Nomi tried to sneak by him on the inside in the fourth, sending the ball high and deep into the night sky and over the wall in left.
The Tigers were behind 2-0 when Kano singled in the sixth. Nishioka drove the runner in with a double to make the score 2-1.
Takeda retired the next batter, Uemoto, to escape the inning with just a single run allowed.
“We couldn’t do anything but leave it to Takeda there,” Akiyama said. “It paid off. Takeda held them.”