SAPPORO – Shohei Otani threw seven scoreless innings to lead the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to a 6-0 win over the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Game 1 of the Pacific League Climax Series Final Stage on Wednesday.
Before 36,633 at Sapporo Dome, Otani allowed one hit, walked two and struck out six, while touching 162 kph. He also delivered a hit from the No. 8 spot in the batting order as the Fighters took a huge first step toward a Japan Series berth.
Since league champs start the six-game final series with a one-win advantage, and can clinch if the series ends in a tie, the Fighters now lead 2-0 and need only another win and a tie to reach the Japan Series for the first time since 2012.
Otani struggled with the command of his slider and was in trouble in the fourth, when veteran Seiichi Uchikawa lined a one-out double and Nobuhiro Matsuda drove one to the warning track in center, where Daikan Yoh hauled it in.
“At the start, I thought I was going to give up a run, but Dai-kan’s play bailed me out,” said Otani.
He helped himself at the plate during the Fighters’ six-run fifth, when Haruki Nishikawa and Kensuke Kondo delivered two-run singles, and Sho Nakata hit a two-run homer.
Brandon Laird led off the inning with a single high off the wall in left, and Otani smashed the first pitch up the middle for a single. Hawks starter Shota Takeda fumbled a sacrifice bunt to load the bases for Nishikawa.
Nishikawa, who had earlier struck out after failing to sacrifice, bounced a hard chopper up the middle to make it 2-0. A second sacrifice by the bunt-happy Fighters put both runners in scoring position. Kensuke Kondo’s weird chopper then somehow got through the infield to make it 4-0 and Nakata teed off on the next pitch.
“Laird did a good job to get on for me, and I thought they’d challenge me, so I was ready to hit from the get-go,” Otani said. “Haruki did a great job in the leadoff spot and Nakata’s two-run shot made things easy for me.”
That was all for Takeda, who left having allowed six runs, five earned, on seven hits and a walk over 4⅓ innings to take the loss.
Otani went 1-for-2 at the plate and laid down a sacrifice in the sixth. He left the game after throwing his 102nd pitch. Keisuke Tanimoto worked a 1-2-3 eighth and closer Chris Martin, who hadn’t pitched since injuring his ankle on Sept. 4, struck out the side to close it out.
Carp 5, BayStars 0
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Kris Johnson threw a three-hit shutout to pace Hiroshima in its first postseason win at home since Oct. 24, 1991.
Johnson walked three and struck out six in a 105-pitch effort that saw Yokohama cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo go 0-for-4.
After wasting two early scoring opportunities, the Carp cashed in against right-hander Guillermo Moscoso in the third.
Yoshihiro Maru doubled home Kosuke Tanaka from second and later scored on a Takahiro Arai single.
Tanaka hit a double that scored catcher Yoshiyuki Ishihara from second in the seventh inning and then scored Hiroshima’s fourth run on a Ryosuke Kikuchi single.
Moscoso allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks, while striking out seven. Former Carp Mike Zagurski worked the eighth for the BayStars and allowed a run.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5