TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – It took a home run on the very first pitch of the game, a squeeze play and a lot from Takayuki Kishi, but the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are still alive and kicking.
Kishi turned in a great start on the mound against his old team, Eigoro Mogi homered and drove in a pair of runs and the Eagles staved off elimination with a 4-1 victory over the Seibu Lions in Game 2 of the Pacific League Climax Series First Stage on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Dome.
“I think since I felt as bad as (Takahiro) Norimoto did (after Norimoto’s loss in Game 1), I really wanted to get a win and give Mima some good vibes for tomorrow,” Kishi said, referring to Game 3 starter Manabu Mima.
The Eagles’ victory evened the series at one game apiece. The teams will meet once more, back at MetLife Dome on Monday night, to decide which will head to the final stage of the Climax Series to face the league champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
“Tomorrow’s game is going to decide everything,” Mogi said.
Rakuten won for only the second time in the last 15 meetings between the PL clubs. Now they have to do it again in order to advance.
“We’re going to give maximum effort and do our best,” said manager Masataka Nashida.
Kishi starred for the Lions for 10 seasons, and was the 2008 Japan Series MVP, before joining the Eagles this past offseason. Having gone 2-1 against his old teammates during the regular season, he returned to his former home with Rakuten’s season on the line.
“I did have some feelings (about coming back), but only a little,” Kishi said.
Kishi allowed a leadoff double to Shogo Akiyama before then retiring the next 13 batters in order.
“I was watching yesterday’s game and saw they have so many hitters you have to be cautious of,” Kishi said. “I think I was able to challenge them with strikes.”
He left the mound after giving up a one-out single to Hotaka Yamakawa in the seventh, and relievers Yuhei Takanashi and Hiroyuki Fukuyama got Rakuten out of the frame.
“I was trying to decide whether or not to leave him out there for another inning,” Nashida said. “But in the end I decided to turn to our relievers in the middle of the inning.”
Kishi allowed no runs and three hits while striking out eight to earn the win.
“I was pretty pleased with everything,” he said. “I had a pretty good feel for my curveball, and I was happy with all my pitches.”
Kishi pitched with the lead for his entire outing thanks in large part to Mogi, who homered on the very first pitch of the contest.
“I was a little surprised it got out,” Mogi said.
The Chiba Lotte Marines’ Ikuhiro Kiyota is the last player to hit a leadoff homer on the first pitch of a Climax Series game, doing so last season against the Hawks and pitcher Rick van den Hurk. Mogi, who had six leadoff home runs during the regular season, also hit an RBI single later in the game.
Akiyama drove in the Lions’ lone run, while Hotaka Yamakawa had two hits, bringing his total for the series to five in two games.
Lions starter Ken Togame had a disastrous beginning, but pulled it together enough to keep his team within striking distance. He gave up three runs on seven hits in 6⅓ innings in the loss. He only allowed two baserunners after the second inning.
After Mogi’s homer gave the Eagles an early lead, they were searching for more with runners on first and second with one out in the second frame.
Shintaro Masuda answered the call with a double to center that drove in one run. The Eagles later pulled off a squeeze play, with Takero Okajima breaking for home as Motohiro Shima laid down a bunt, to tack on another.
“It went just the way I’d hoped,” Nashida said of the squeeze bunt. “The ball was inside, and Shima was able to execute.”
Kishi made the lead stand up, and Mogi gave the Eagles a little more breathing room with his RBI single in the seventh to make the score 4-0.
The Lions tried to rally in the eighth.
Takeya Nakamura and pinch hitter Takumi Kuriyama each singled to lead off the frame. Nakamura moved up a base on a ground ball hit by Yuji Kaneko and later scored on Akiyama’s RBI ground-out.
Rakuten closer Yuki Matsui shut the door in the ninth to earn his first Climax Series save.
The series wraps up with a do-or-die game for both teams on Monday. Mima will take the mound for the Eagles, with Seibu countering with Ryoma Nogami.
BayStars beat Tigers
At Koshien Stadium, in a game played in a steady rain that made Koshien’s grass outfield slick and its dirt infield a muddy quagmire, the Yokohama BayStars came from two runs down to beat the Hanshin Tigers 13-6 and even the Central League Climax Series First Stage at one game apiece and set up a Game 3 for Monday, Kyodo News reports.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo went 4-for-6 with two RBIs and singled in the tie-breaking run in the BayStars’ six-run seventh inning. Because of the slick conditions, any ball not hit close to a fielder was likely to wind up a hit, and Yokohama finished with 21.
Since Hanshin finished second in the regular season, the Tigers not only host the first stage but will advance to the final stage if the best-of-three series finishes in a tie.