YOKOHAMA - The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks won the first two games of the Japan Series with a blowout and a dramatic late-inning comeback.
To get the third, they just had to hang on.
Run-scoring hits by Seiichi Uchikawa and Hiroaki Takaya gave the Hawks an early lead, and six relievers bent but didn’t break in making it stand up, as SoftBank moved to the brink of another championship with a 3-2 win over the Yokohama BayStars in Game 3 on Tuesday night at Yokohama Stadium in front of a crowd of 27,153.
SoftBank leads the series 3-0 and can claim its third Japan Series title since 2014 with another victory.
“We’ve worked hard to get to this point,” manager Kimiyasu Kudo said.
The Hawks took a 1-0 lead in the first inning for the third straight game after an RBI single by Uchikawa.
“Hanging curveball,” BayStars starter Joe Wieland said. “That’s all it was. I missed with the fastball first pitch, and I went breaking ball away, and it was up in the zone. He did exactly what he was supposed to do with it. That was the story of tonight.”
Takaya extended the lead with a two-run single in the fourth.
“I was looking for a fastball and wanted to at least get a sacrifice fly and was trying to not hit into a double play” said Takaya, who stepped to the plate with runners on the corners, before Kenji Akashi stole second during the at-bat.
Takaya also contributed defensively, with the catcher throwing out a pair of runners trying to swipe second and doing an admirable job leading the pitching staff.
“Our pitchers were working hard, so I tried to lead them as best I could,” he said.
With Hawks starter Shota Takeda lasting just 4 1/3 innings, Kudo turned to his bullpen, which was the best in Japan during the regular season. They got the job done, as Shuta Ishikawa, Shinya Kayama, Yuito Mori, Livan Moinelo, Sho Iwasaki and closer Dennis Sarfate combined to allow just one run over the final 4 2/3 innings.
“Our relievers held down opponents in games like this and built up a lot of confidence,” Kudo said. “It’s not easy to do it in the Japan Series, but we’ve really got great relievers.
“We let them do their job in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, and if we go into extra innings, or lose games with our relievers, we’re OK with that.”
The only run Yokohama got off the SoftBank bullpen came in the fourth after loading the bases with one out against Kayama with the score 3-1 in the Hawks’ favor. Mori came on and struck out the first batter he faced before giving up an infield single that allowed a run to score. He retired the next batter.
“Kayama did a good job, and Mori, though he gave up a run, didn’t allow them to take the lead,” Kudo said. “That was huge.
Moinelo drew an especially tough assignment, coming on in the seventh with three of Yokohama’s top hitters, Takayuki Kajitani, Jose Lopez and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo due up. He retired the side on a liner to the shortstop and two strikeouts.
“I’ll go to the mound whenever the team tells me to go,” Moinelo said. “But I was happy to be given that role in such an important situation.”
Ishikawa earned the win in relief of Takeda, who pitched 4 1/3 shaky innings but held the BayStars to only one run despite walking four.
The BayStars got a home run from Lopez, and a 3-for-4 night from Toshihiko Kuramoto, who also drove in a run, but will find themselves playing to keep their season alive in Game 4 on Wednesday night at Yokohama Stadium.
The BayStars were hosting a Japan Series game for the first time since winning the title in 1998. The club gave its fans a reminder of that team with famed former closer Kazuhiro “Daimajin” Sasaki on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
They couldn’t draw upon enough of that 1998 magic against the Hawks, as the club lost a Japan Series game in Yokohama for the first time. If they lose a second, their last home game of the year will end with the Hawks celebrating.
The BayStars had their chances, they just didn’t cash in enough.
Lopez’s home run in the fourth was followed by a single from Tsutsugo, a hit batter and a walk drawn by Toshiro Miyazaki. Takeda then retired Tatsuhiro Shibata on a fly ball and struck out Wieland.
Ramirez said he felt it was too early to pinch-hit for Wieland at that juncture.
“Their pitcher, it was not his best day today,” Ramirez said. “I felt we would still get another chance later on, when I would really need the pinch hitter. It happened, we just couldn’t hit. (Tomo) Otosaka hit, he just struck out. It happened the way I thought it was going to happen, we just couldn’t hit.”
Yokohama also loaded the bases with one out in the sixth. Otosaka struck out, Kuramoto drove in a run, and Masayuki Kuwahara flew out to right to end the threat.
“We had pretty good chances today,” Ramirez said. “The fourth inning we had a chance, bases loaded. “We also had a good chance in the third inning. We couldn’t score. That happens. Sometimes you hit, sometimes you don’t hit. That’s part of the game. We just gotta come back tomorrow ready to go.”
Wieland allowed three runs on six hits over 5 1/3 innings and was charged with the loss.
“This was on me,” he said after the game. “Both times they had runners in scoring position I failed to execute a pitch and they made me pay for it.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report