FUKUOKA – Nobuhiro Matsuda bounced on one leg across the batter’s box after missing a pitch, something he’s become known for doing, during the fourth inning. He made a name for himself as a home run hitter this season, and unfortunately for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, that’s something else he did in the fourth inning.
Matsuda jump-started the Hawks with a solo home run, starter Shota Takeda went the distance and the Hawks won Game 1 of the Japan Series 4-2 on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 35,732 at Yafuoku Dome.
“Takeda pitched well for us and was consistent, and our batters came through with a lot of hits,” Softbank manager Kimiyasu Kudo said. “It was truly a team victory.”
The Swallows will be trying to avoid going down 0-2 in the series when the teams meet again.
“We were unable to hit Takeda tonight,” Yakult manager Mitsuru Manaka said. “The first game is in the books and it’s disappointing to lose the opener, but we will be looking to even the series tomorrow.”
Softbank played without outfielder Seiichi Uchikawa, who was held out with fractured ribs, an injury suffered during the Pacific League Climax Series final stage. Uchikawa took batting practice Friday, but word sifted out during BP on Saturday that he wouldn’t be able to play.
The Hawks didn’t miss a beat without their captain.
Every player Softbank sent to the plate — all nine starters and two pinch hitters — finished with at least one hit. Lee Dae-ho led the way with three, while Matsuda and Kenta Imamiya had two each. The team outhit Yakult 15-4.
Matsuda, who was second in the Pacific League with 35 homers this year, drove in the first run of the game with his home run in the fourth, and Hiroaki Takaya and Keizo Kawashima, who was traded to Softbank from Yakult last season, had run-scoring hits during the same frame.
“I thought about Uchikawa-san, our cleanup hitter and captain, who could not play tonight and wanted to hit a home run for him and get our team started,” Matsuda said.
Kenji Akashi also drove in a run for the home team.
While the Hawks were picking up hit after hit, Takeda made sure the Swallows couldn’t do the same. He didn’t pitch against Yakult this season, but made quite the first impression.
“I hadn’t seen them, but I had an image of them already,” he said.
Takeda threw 120 pitches, allowing two unearned runs on four hits. He struck out one and walked one. He was pitching a shutout until Kazuhiro Hatakeyama hit a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth.
“He threw the ball very well today,” said Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien. “We weren’t able to get comfortable. It’s a tough loss today, but tomorrow is a new day.”
Hatakeyama was one of the few bright spots for Yakult, going 2-for-4 and driving in both runs with his second homer of the postseason.
Swallows starter Masanori Ishikawa had a miserable night, allowing three runs on eight hits in four innings in the losing effort.
“I’d hoped to have been able to pitch the way I had during the season,” Ishikawa said.
A lot of attention was heaped upon the two “Triple 3” players but neither did much in the opener. Yuki Yanagita was 1-for-5 for Softbank, while Yakult’s Tetsuto Yamada nearly homered but finished hitless in four at-bats.
The Hawks nearly got on the board in the first inning, but squandered a chance with the bases loaded.
Matsuda got the scoring started with his home run in the fourth. Akira Nakamura and Yuki Yoshimura then hit consecutive singles to put runners on first and second for Imamiya. The Hawks shortstop delivered with a hit to the outfield, but center fielder Tsuyoshi Ueda fielded the ball and made a great throw to nail Nakamura at the plate.
Softbank eventually got the second run on a hit by the next batter, Takaya. Kawashima’s RBI single, Softbank’s sixth consecutive hit in the frame, made it 3-0.
“I think everyone on our team was a little tight, but Matsuda’s home run got us to loosen up, and we were able to put six hits together and put three runs on the board,” Kudo said. “We felt great after that.”
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