Hiroshima Carp fans might have gone home feeling that a little can sometimes go a long way after Game 2 of the Japan Series. Their Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters counterparts, however, head back to Sapporo thinking that snowballs have a nasty tendency to start avalanches.
The Carp parlayed a leadoff double and a play at the plate, one so close it needed a replay review, into a tiebreaking run in the sixth inning. Then they added three more, as the wheels fell off for Nippon Ham, to move halfway to a long-awaited title with a 5-1 victory on Sunday night in front of a crowd of 30,638 at Mazda Stadium.
“We played Carp baseball yesterday and today,” Hiroshima manager Koichi Ogata said. “It was a great game.”
The Carp took a 2-0 lead in the series, which heads north to Hokkaido for Game 3 on Tuesday night. The Carp can claim their first Japan Series title since 1984 with two more wins.
“We’re going over to their home field,” Hiroshima’s Brad Eldred said. “They’re gonna be a little bit more comfortable at home. But nothing changes as far as when you get on the baseball field for us. I think we just keep doing what we’ve been doing the whole year.”
Eldred drove in the final run of the night with a home run in the sixth. The Carp slugger also went deep in the final game of the Climax Series and in Game 1 of the Japan Series, giving him three in as many games.
“I’m seeing the ball good, taking good swings,” Eldred said. “I’m doing a good job of getting into the count I that I need. That makes a difference.”
Carp starter Yusuke Nomura, who led the Central League with 16 wins during the season, allowed just one unearned run in six innings on the mound in the victory.
“Yusuke pitched great and the other pitchers after him displayed great pitching as well,” Ogata said. “But more than anything, (catcher Yoshiyuki) Ishihara led them and it worked out well for us.”
Nomura was forced to pitch around a few rough patches, but credited Ishihara for getting him through.
“I had to deal with a few pinches, but Ishihara guided me and I was able to pitch with patience,” he said.
The one run Nomura allowed came courtesy of the rarest of the rare: an error by three-time reigning Gold Glove second basemen Ryosuke Kikuchi in the fourth inning. Kikuchi only committed four during the regular season, and he made up for it later in the game.
Kosuke Tanaka got the fireworks started in the sixth with a double. Kikuchi then showed bunt, but pulled back and swung at a 2-1 fastball, sending it into left. Fighters outfielder Haruki Nishikawa grabbed the ball and made a great throw home, where Tanaka was ruled out. The Carp asked for a review, arguing that catcher Shota Ono didn’t make a tag. Replays appeared to show Ono hitting Tanaka in the helmet, though with his wrist. It was a close play, but the umpires saw enough to overturn the call, giving the Carp a run.
That was only the beginning for Hiroshima.
Yoshiro Maru tried to move Kikuchi from second to third with a bunt, and an errant throw by pitcher Hirotoshi Masui allowed Kikuchi to score as Maru went to second. Maru went to third on a wild pitch by reliever Yohei Kagiya. That mistake proved costly when the batter, Seiya Suzuki, hit a sacrifice fly that brought in another run. Eldred then got in on the fun with his solo homer to left.
By the end of the frame it was 5-1 Carp and Zoom Zoom Stadium was rocking.
Masui was charged with his first loss since Aug. 11. He allowed four runs — two earned — in 5⅓ innings.
The Carp got their first run off him early.
Eldred singled through the left side of the infield with one out in the second and motored home on Tetsuya Kokubo’s double to right-center to make the score 1-0.
“Our hitting coach told me to use Kokubo, and he lived up to our expectations,” Ogata said.
Sho Nakata picked up his first hit of the series to start the fourth and Kensuke Tanaka drew a walk with one out to give the Fighters two men on base. Nomura struck out Daikan Yoh and looked to have gotten out of the inning when Ono hit a broken bat grounder to second. Kikuchi misplayed it on the bounce and Nakata came around to score as the ball skipped by Kikuchi.
The scored remained tied until the Carp stormed ahead in the sixth.
The series moves to Sapporo Dome for at least the next two games, and a fifth if necessary. Neither team has officially named its starter yet, though retiring veteran Hiroki Kuroda is expected to toe the rubber for Hiroshima.
“We’re going to keep playing our style of baseball in Sapporo,” Nomura said. “We’ll play with a total team effort.”