FUKUOKA – The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks clinched the Pacific League championship on Thursday, when Nobuhiro Matsuda singled home the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning in a 2-1 win over the Orix Buffaloes.
“I’m content,” said Hawks skipper Koji Akiyama. “More than me, this (pennant race) has been excruciating for the players and fans so it’s good we won the championship.”
Alessandro Maestri, Orix’s sixth pitcher, walked Yuki Yanagita to open the bottom of the 10th. A sacrifice and a walk put runners on first and second for former Buffalo Lee Dae-ho, who walked to load the bases.
Before 38,561 at Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, right-hander Motoki Higa, who has been a bull in middle relief for the Buffaloes this season, took the mound and surrendered a line drive to left on a 1-2 pitch to Matsuda. Maestri (2-1) suffered the loss.
Hawks closer Dennis Sarfate, working his second inning, loaded the bases with two outs, but got Wily Mo Pena to foul out on his next delivery to keep the game tied going into the bottom of the 10th. The right-hander earned the win to improve to 7-1.
Playing their 144th and final game of the regular season, Softbank entered Thursday’s game in a virtual tie with the Buffaloes and having lost nine of its last 10 games. The league championship is the 18th in franchise history and the Hawks’ first since they won the Japan Series in 2011.
The pennant is the third for Hawks manager Akiyama, who took over the club in 2009. The Hawks will now enter the PL playoffs in the best-of-seven second stage, which will be held in Fukuoka starting on Oct. 15.
Orix, trying to reach the Japan Series for the first time since the franchise won the PL in 1995 and 1996, will host the best-of-three first stage at Kyocera Dome starting on Oct. 11 against the third-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
The Hawks broke the ice in the second inning on a sacrifice fly by veteran catcher Toru Hosokawa, following a one-out single by Akira Nakamura and a double by Yuki Yoshimura off Buffaloes starter Brandon Dickson. The lanky right-hander got out of jail by burying a 3-2 curve that big-hitting Yanagita swung and missed.
Softbank southpaw Kenji Otonari allowed four hits in six scoreless innings, but the Buffaloes tied it against the second Softbank pitcher, rookie right-hander Yuito Mori in the seventh.
Veteran Tomotaka Sakaguchi came off the bench to produce a leadoff single. With one out, he was sacrificed to second, and manager Hiroshi Moriwaki’s little-ball ploy came to fruition when light-hitting veteran Takuya Hara came through with a pinch-hit single. In an at-bat in which he was clearly overmatched, Hara grounded a lazy 2-2 forkball into right for a game-tying RBI single.
Lions 9, Fighters 8
At Seibu Dome, Ernesto Mejia broke a 7-7 tie in the fourth inning with his PL-best 34th home run, a two-run shot as Seibu beat Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
Dragons 4, BayStars 1
At Yokohama Stadium, Daisuke Yamai (13-5) allowed a run in 6-2/3 innings to move into a tie for the CL lead in wins as Chunichi beat Yokohama, which will bring back skipper Kiyoshi Nakahata for a fourth season in 2015 on a one-year deal.
Giants 9, Swallows 1
At Jingu Stadium, Hayato Sakamoto and Itaru Hashimoto both hit three-run homers as CL champion Yomiuri whipped last-place Tokyo Yakult to snap a three-game losing skid and reach 80 wins.
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