It was probably only a matter of time before Tetsuto Yamada made his presence felt. When he did, he produced one of the greatest performances in the history of the Japan Series.
Yamada hit three home runs in three consecutive trips to the plate, driving in five runs, and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows beat the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 8-4 in Game 3, a back-and-forth contest, on Tuesday night at Jingu Stadium.
“I was able to hit really well, but I’ve never felt this way before,” Yamada said after the game.
The Swallows cut the Hawks’ lead in the series to 2-1. Game 4 is scheduled for Wednesday night at Jingu.
“We’re going to have to do more from this point (on) because we’ve only won once,” said Swallows manager Mitsuru Manaka.
The Swallows’ victory snapped Softbank’s five-game winning streak this postseason. The Hawks had won nine straight playoff games dating back to last season’s Japan Series.
“We ran into a hot hitter in Yamada,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said. “He hit three home run. What can I say?”
The Hawks held Yamada in check in the first two games (he was 1-for-7 combined) in Fukuoka, but he got loose on a windy night in Tokyo.
“To come up in such a big spot and do that in such a big game, we’re down 2-0 (in the series) at the time, and he goes up and has that game,” Yakult closer Tony Barnette said. “That right there could possibly change the way this series goes.”
Yamada hammered pitches from Hawks starter Kenichi Nakata in his first two trips to the plate, then hit another in the fifth when Kudo brought in Kodai Senga to face him.
“We drew energy from the cheering of our fans and that’s always where my power comes from,” Yamada said. “I was able to swing the bat the way I wanted and the ball flew really well.”
As if a third home run in as many at-bats wasn’t big enough, that particular blast was a go-ahead two-run shot that turned a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead.
“I’m still getting ready and stuff and I’m watching it on the screen,” Barnette said about Yamada’s third at-bat. “I’m sitting in my chair and I just kind of say to myself, ‘Why not another one? Somebody’s got to do it, might as well be him.’ ”
“And he does it, and you’re just not surprised by it.”
Yamada is the first player in Japan Series history to hit three home runs in one game. Yamada is also the first to homer in three consecutive plate appearances in the same game. The last player to homer in three consecutive Japan Series plate appearances was Yomiuri Giants legend Shigeo Nagashima, who did it across two games in 1970.
“Honestly, I’m really glad to hear that,” Yamada said.
There were six home runs in all Tuesday. In addition to Yamada’s haul, Yakult got a solo shot from Kazuhiro Hatakeyama, while Hawks batters Kenji Akashi and Kenta Imamiya hit one each.
Hatakeyama’s blast in the eighth, after Softbank had finally retired Yamada, jump-started a three-run frame. Yuhei Nakamura did the honors later in the inning, connecting on a two-run double that made the score 8-4.
Softbank’s penchant for stranding runners during the series reared its head again. The team had men on second and third in the opening frame, but neither Lee Dae-ho nor Nobuhiro Matsuda could get a run home.
Akashi had two hits and a homer off the back screen in center for Softbank. Imamiya’s homer also went to straightaway center. Shuhei Fukuda drove in a run with an RBI single, and the Hawks also scored on a wild pitch.
Yakult’s Orlando Roman retired both batters he faced in the fifth, and was credited with the win after throwing just six pitches. It was a good night for the Swallows’ pen, with five pitchers combining for 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.
“We used a lot of pitchers in relay form as we did during the regular season,” Manaka said. “It worked out well for us tonight.”
Senga was charged with the loss.
Swallows leadoff batter Tsuyoshi Ueda drew a walk to start the bottom of the first and Yamada drove him in with a home run later in the frame.
A single by Akira Nakamura and a one-out hit to right by Hiroaki Takaya gave the Hawks two on with one out in the second. Nakata bunted the runners over to bring up Fukuda with Hawks on second and third. A wild pitch allowed one runner to score, and Fukuda drove in the other with a game-tying single to right.
Yamada went deep again, to the same spot in center, in the third to restore the Swallows’ lead.
The Hawks answered in the top of the fourth, with the normally light-hitting Imamiya homering to straightaway center. Akashi gave Softbank its first lead with a homer to center in the fifth that made the score 4-3.
The Swallows’ Shingo Kawabata drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the fifth and Yamada put his team in front again with a two-run shot to left. Yakult added three more in the eighth to put the game away.
The Swallows have been living a charmed life at Jingu in the Japanese Fall Classic. Dating back to Game 5 of the 1995 Series, Yakult has won eight consecutive Japan Series games at home.
They’ll try to win another on Wednesday.
“Softbank is a great team, but we beat them tonight, and expect to win again tomorrow and even the Japan Series,” Yamada said. “I want to thank our fans for staying late and cheering us on to victory.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.