Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Hawks earn spot in Japan Series

Kyodo

The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks clinched the Pacific League Climax Series’ Final Stage on Sunday with a 7-0 win over the Tohoku Golden Rakuten Eagles to earn a spot in the Japan Series.

The Hawks began the six-game final stage at their home park, Yafuoku Dome, with a one-win advantage, but suffered one-run losses in Games 1 and 2 to fall behind before sweeping the next three games against the third-place Eagles.

The Japan Series will begin on Saturday in Fukuoka against either the Hiroshima Carp or Yokohama BayStars, whose Central League final stage is currently tied 2-2.

Right-hander Shota Takeda worked seven innings to get the win and Nobuhiro Matsuda drove in four runs, while the Hawks got an instant boost with the return of star center fielder Yuki Yanagita, who had been out for a month due to injury.

“Things were looking bad after we lost two straight, like we had a zero percent chance of reaching the Japan Series,” Hawks skipper Kimiyasu Kudo said. “The Rakuten Eagles were tough opponents and really put us under pressure, and made it look like we would lose.

“But we just didn’t accept that it would end like that. The players on the bench kept shouting and encouraging each other, and they played how they were used to doing, with energy and high spirits. It wasn’t just the captains, it was all the players, and this is thanks to them.”

Still on the mend with a muscle injury around his rib cage, suffered in September, Yanagita, typically the Hawks’ No. 3 hitter, batted leadoff and sparked a first-inning rally.

He opened the frame with an infield single, was bunted to second and took third on a wild pitch. After Alfredo Despaigne walked, Hawks captain Seiichi Uchikawa brought Yanagita home with a sacrifice fly.

Akira Nakamura’s loud single off the right field fence put runners on the corners, and Matsuda’s two-out double completed the three-run first.

The Eagles stuck with starter Manabu Mima, but the Hawks rocked him for two more runs in the fourth. Nakamura, who hit tie-breaking homers in Games 3 and 4, singled to open the fourth and Matsuda followed with his first homer of the postseason.

Rookie Shoma Fujihira took over for Mima, but a one-out single, a sacrifice and Yanagita’s second single of the game made it 6-0.

Takeda allowed five singles and a walk, while striking out five. Sho Iwasaki overcame a leadoff walk to record a scoreless eighth, and closer Dennis Sarfate punched the Hawks’ ticket to Nippon Professional Baseball’s championship series with a scoreless ninth.

Meanwhile, in Hiroshima, Game 4 of the CL’s final stage was rained out for the second straight day.

With NPB’s amateur draft scheduled for Thursday, Wednesday is the final day games can be played. If the series has not been completed by then, the team leading the stage will move on to the Japan Series, and the Carp will advance in case of a tie.