HIROSHIMA - A big first inning propelled the Hiroshima Carp into the Japan Series on Saturday in an 8-7 win over the Yokohama BayStars in Game 4 of the Central League Climax Series Final Stage.
It will be the seventh Japan Series appearance for the Carp and their first since 1991. Hiroshima last won Nippon Professional Baseball’s championship series in 1984.
“We expected tough games,” Carp manager Koichi Ogata said. “DeNA gave us many tough times in the regular season.”
Before 31,313 at Mazda Stadium, Yokohama lefty Shota Imanaga lost a matchup against Akitake Okada, both rookies taken in the first round of last year’s draft. Imanaga allowed six runs in an inning, while Okada survived five innings, holding the BayStars to four runs. Yokohama clawed its way back into the game, but the Carp managed to stay one step ahead all the way.
Imanaga was doomed by his inability to deal with home plate umpire Chikara Tsugawa’s not calling strikes and some good swings by the Carp. After questionable calls led to two early walks, Imanaga started aiming the ball and Hiroshima’s hitters began to see how hard they could hit them.
With one out and men on first and second, Takahiro Arai slammed a 3-1 pitch between third and short and Imanaga’s path toward meltdown gained speed. Seiya Suzuki singled to make it 2-0, and Brad Eldred got his bat on a first-pitch fastball away and just reached the seats in right for a three-run homer.
Two more singles, one a fluke infield knock on a swinging bunt by Okada, set up leadoff man Kosuke Tanaka for an RBI single that made it 6-0. Tanaka had led off the inning with an 11-pitch at-bat. After fouling off five straight 3-2 pitches, Tanaka was caught looking on a pitch down the middle, but Tsugawa’s decision to call it a ball got the Carp’s party started.
“The batters did it today in the first inning, creating that momentum,” said Ogata, who did not have enough praise for Tanaka after his leadoff man reached base 15 times in 17 plate appearances and was named the series MVP.
“He was god-like. You just don’t see that. He was our driving force.”
Yokohama scored twice in the second with the help of a pair of Carp errors.
Toshiro Miyazaki doubled, Elian Herrera reached when Okada dropped the ball covering first before Toshihiko Kuramoto singled home Miyazaki, and Herrera scored on a throwing error by Suzuki in right field.
Takayuki Kajitani made it a two-run game in the third with a two-run homer. Good hitting and base running by Miyazaki and Herrera put the tying runs in scoring position with two outs, but Okada escaped further damage.
After Yoshiaki Fujioka worked a scoreless second, the Carp tacked on single runs in the third and the fifth off lefty Yoshiki Sunada. Tetsuya Kokubo, who singled and scored in the first, led off the third with a single and the fifth with a walk. Ryosuke Kikuchi singled him home in the third and Tanaka’s RBI single brought him home in the fifth.
Hiroshima reliever Ryuji Ichioka gave up two runs in the sixth on a walk, an RBI triple by BayStars catcher Yasutaka Tobashira and a run-scoring ground out, and the visitors narrowed the gap further in the seventh against Takeru Imamura on a leadoff homer by Jose Lopez.
Setup man Jay Jackson restored order from the Carp bullpen with a 1-2-3 eighth, but closer Shota Nakazaki got a taste of Tsugawa’s specialty with two outs in the ninth. Lopez walked after two pitches in the zone were called balls, but Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, the CL home run and RBI leader, ended his frustrating series by striking out on a high fastball. He ended the series 1-for-16.
“I don’t think it was pressure,” Ramirez said. “They didn’t pitch to him that much and he wanted so much to help the team that he started swinging at pitches he doesn’t normally swing at.”
The Japan Series will start next Saturday in Hiroshima against the winner of the Pacific League Climax Series Final Stage.
“Once more, those are going to be hard contests,” Ogata said. “The only thing we can do is play the Carp’s brand of baseball. We will give it all we’ve got.”
Hawks 5, Fighters 2
At Sapporo Dome, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks kept their hopes to advance to the Japan Series alive with a win over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Game 4 of the Pacific League Climax Series Final Stage.
Nippon Ham and SoftBank have two wins each in the six-game series, and the Fighters, who have a one-win advantage for winning the league pennant, need to win or tie Sunday’s Game 5 to move into the Japan Series against the Hiroshima Carp starting Oct. 22.
Yuya Hasegawa scored first with a solo homer in the second inning, Yuki Yanagita had an RBI single an inning later and Kenta Imamiya struck a two-run home run to the left-field stands in the fourth to give the Hawks, the PL runner-up, a 4-0 lead.
Nobuhiro Matsuda led off the sixth with a solo clout to extend SoftBank’s lead, while Nippon Ham only managed two runs in the bottom of the frame on Shohei Otani’s two-run double.
Hawks starter Rick van den Hurk held the Fighters to two runs on four hits and two walks, striking out six in as many innings to earn the win and four relievers combined to keep the home team scoreless in the last three innings.
Nippon Ham’s Hirotoshi Takanashi took the loss after yielding four runs on five hits and a walk in four innings