FUKUOKA – The day before this Japan Series was scheduled to start, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks closer Dennis Sarfate said his team had the best starting rotation, best lineup and best bullpen in the league.
It’s hard to argue with him after the way SoftBank opened the series.
Yuya Hasegawa hit a two-run home run and was one of four Hawks with at least two RBIs, Kodai Senga silenced Yokohama’s bats and the Hawks rode a seven-run fifth inning to a 10-1 rout of the BayStars in Game 1 of the 2017 Japan Series on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 36,183 at Yafuoku Dome.
The Hawks lead the best-of-seven series 1-0.
“We want to play the way we usually do,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said. “Instead of doing something extra, we want to keep setting the table for the next player and be in high spirits when we play. Baseball should be played with joy.”
There was plenty of joy, and RBIs, to go around on Saturday.
“When we went out on the field, we just all played as one,” Hawks slugger Alfredo Despaigne said.
Hasegawa drove in two runs with his first homer of the postseason, Despaigne had a run-scoring double and an RBI single, Yuki Yanagita drove in a pair with a single and Kenta Imamiya had a two-run triple. Keizo Kawashima and Takuya Kai were also credited with RBIs.
“It’s my job to drive in runs,” Despaigne said. “I’m happy I was able to do that today.”
The Hawks did most of their damage in the fifth, when they turned a 3-1 lead into a 10-1 blowout.
Imamiya walked to lead off the inning, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error. Despaigne drove him in with a single. Kawashima and Kai drew consecutive bases-loaded walks later in the inning to make it 6-1, and Yanagita put two more on the board with a hit to right field. Imamiya stepped to the plate for the second time in the inning and drove in two runs with a triple to make the score 10-1.
It all added up to very rude welcome to Fukuoka for the BayStars, who are playing in the franchise’s first Japan Series since 1998.
“First game out there, I’m sure some of the guys were a little bit nervous,” BayStars manager Alex Ramirez said. “That happens. It’s part of the game sometimes.”
The Hawks stumbled out of the gates during the final stage of the Pacific League Climax Series, but are seemingly firing on all cylinders now. The win was their fourth straight in the postseason, and they’ve now hit at least one home run in six straight playoff games.
Senga was in control throughout his outing, allowing four hits and an unearned run over seven innings while striking out three and walking two. He didn’t miss as many bats as he normally does, but proved to be more than Yokohama could handle.
“Our offense scored a lot of runs, that was the biggest reason (for the win) Senga said. “I was able to pitch without completely messing things up.”
Relivers Yudai Mori, Shinya Kamaya and Hayato Terahara kept the BayStars off the board in the final two frames.
“I was tired,” Senga said when asked why he came out after seven innings. “Plus we had a (nine-run) lead. It feels good to have won anyway.”
While the teams are officially not naming probable starters, Kudo let it slip Senga was starting Game 1 anyway during batting practice. It’s widely expected the Hawks will send Nao Higashihama to the mound in Game 2.
“I’m not going to tell you guys who tomorrow’s pitcher will be,” Kudo teased.
BayStars starter Shoichi Ino lasted 4 1/3 innings and was charged with seven runs — six earned. Reliever Kenjiro Tanaka allowed three runs in a third of an inning.
“I felt good in the bullpen, but I wasn’t able to throw strikes when I tried to pitch inside,” Ino said.
Yokohama got it’s only run on a grounder by Masayuki Kuwahara in the fifth inning.
Yanagita led off the bottom of the first with a single and Imamiya moved him along with a sacrifice bunt. Despagine hammered a double into left to bring Yanagita home and make the score 1-0 Hawks.
The lead was soon 3-0, after Nobuhiro Matsuda’s leadoff single and Hasegawa’s two-run homer to center in the second inning.
Yokohama’s Tomo Otosaka hit a grounder to second baseman Kenji Akahashi to begin the fifth. He was safe at first when Akashi fumbled the ball and raced to third on a single by Toshihiko Kuramoto. Kuwahara hit a grounder to shortstop, and the Hawks took the out at second as Otosaka scored.
From there, it was all SoftBank.
The BayStars lost the first game of their two previous series, against the Hanshin Tigers and Hiroshima Carp, before rebounding the win the remaining games each time. Now they’re hoping to bounce back against SoftBank.
“We lost the first game against Hanshin. We lost the first two games against Hiroshima (the Carp began with a one-win advantage and then won Game 1), lost the first game here,” Ramirez said. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Tomorrow is another day.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.