Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Hawks beat Fighters to book spot in Japan Series

by Dave Hueston

Kyodo

Kenji Otonari threw seven scoreless innings and Toru Hosokawa homered as the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks defeated the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 4-1 in Game 6 of the Pacific League Climax Series Final Stage on Monday night to book a spot in the Japan Series.

Softbank, which had a one-win advantage as the PL champion, won the series 4-3 and will play in the Japan Series for the first time since 2011, when it won the title.

The Hawks will face the Hanshin Tigers in the Japan Series starting Saturday. Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-seven series will be played at the Tigers’ home, Koshien Stadium.

Left-hander Otonari, who threw 7⅔ innings of two-run ball in Game 1 and was pitching on four days’ rest, scattered six hits, struck out six and walked one.

Ryota Igarashi threw a scoreless eighth and Dennis Sarfate allowed a run on his throwing error in the ninth, but escaped a two-on jam for the victory.

The Hawks opened the scoring on Seiichi Uchikawa’s RBI single in a two-run fourth and Hosokawa added to the damage with his leadoff blast in the fifth before a capacity crowd of 38,561 at Yafuoku Dome.

The third-place Fighters had nine hits but never really threatened except for in the ninth, stranding 10 runners.

In the fourth, Kenji Akashi delivered a leadoff double down the left-field line and Uchikawa then drilled a first-pitch fastball into right.

The relay throw home was too late as Akashi scored easily for a 1-0 lead, with Uchikawa also safe at second on the play.

Lee Dae-ho was hit by a pitch to place runners at first and second before Nobuhiro Matsuda broke his bat hitting into a 6-4-3 double play.

Fighters rookie starter Naoyuki Uwasawa walked the next batter and was replaced by reliever Yohei Kagiya, who allowed the second run on Yuki Yoshimura’s bloop single to right.

Yoshimura was named the series MVP.

Hosokawa launched Kagiya’s 1-0 fastball into the stands in left to make it 3-0 in the fifth before Lee put the final nail in the coffin with a one-out RBI double to the right-field corner in the eighth.

Uwasawa, who had pitched in Game 2 of the PLCS first stage on Oct. 12, yielded two runs on four hits in 3⅔ innings in taking the loss.

There was a bit of controversy in the third when center fielder Yang Dai-kang made a sliding catch on Yuki Yanagita’s one-out liner with a runner on first.

Hosokawa, who had reached on a single, was out on a double play that ended the inning.

Video replay appeared to show the ball falling into Yang’s glove, but Hawks manager Koji Akiyama took issue with the call as he came out to talk with the six umpires who converged for a short conference.

The Hawks, who went on a 1-9 slide from Sept. 17 before capturing the league pennant on Oct. 2, wrapped up the series in convincing fashion despite their late season struggles.