YOKOHAMA – Anyone who thought the Yokohama BayStars were just going to roll over after going down 3-0 in the Japan Series can think again.
These BayStars are still in it, and the mighty Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks suddenly have a fight on their hands.
The BayStars rallied from two runs down after Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Toshiro Miyazaki and Hiroki Minei drove in a run apiece in the sixth inning, and closer Yasuaki Yamasaki got the final out of a four-out save with the bases loaded, as the BayStars climbed back into the Japan Series with a 5-4 victory over the Hawks in Game 5 in front of a crowd of 27,180 on Thursday night at Yokohama Stadium.
“After losing three in a row, we did what we always do,” Tsutsugo said.
It was final game of the year at “HamaSta,” but it wasn’t the end of the line for the BayStars, who head back to Fukuoka for Game 6 trailing 3-2 in the series.
The BayStars have seized the momentum with two straight wins and are trying to become the fourth team to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win the Japan Series. The 1989 Yomiuri Giants were the last to do it. Those Giants rallied past the Kintetsu Buffaloes by winning Games 4 and 5 at home, as the BayStars have now done, before taking the final two games on the road.
Tsutsugo gave the BayStars a 2-1 lead with a two-run homer in the fourth, but they trailed 4-2 entering the sixth after the Hawks got a sacrifice fly by Alfredo Despaigne and a two-run homer from Akira Nakamura in the fifth.
Masayuki Kuwahara began the sixth with a single and a stolen base. Tatsuhiro Shibata hit a ball back toward the mound, but was unlucky when starting pitcher Rick Van den Hurk made a nifty behind-the-back grab and threw him out at first. Jose Lopez drew a walk to bring Tsutsugo up, and the star slugger came through with an RBI double off reliever Livan Moinelo.
“He did a tremendous job today,” Ramirez said of Tsutsugo. “That is a true yon-ban (No. 4) batter. Yesterday after the game, I was feeling we won without Tsutsugo, so I had a good feeling that today he was gonna hit, and he did exactly that.”
Miyazaki then tied the score at 4-4 with a single up the middle. Minei came on to pinch-hit with runners on the corners and hit a grounder to second that allowed Tsutsugo to score the tiebreaking run.
The BayStars still led by a run when Ramirez brought on Yamasaki to face Yuki Yanagita with two outs in the eighth. It was the first time all year Yamasaki was called upon for more than an inning.
“Throughout the regular season and postseason, I’d never had a chance like that this year,” Yamasaki said. “So I didn’t exactly know what to do, but my team told me, ‘We’re counting on you.’ That gave me confidence as I did my job and our team gained some momentum since we ended up winning.”
Yamasaki retired Yanagita to end the eighth, but allowed ninth-inning singles to Kenta Imamiya, Seiichi Uchikawa and Nobuhiro Matsuda, as the Hawks loaded the bases with two outs. Yamasaki regrouped and finished off SoftBank by retiring Kenji Akashi on a grounder.
“There were many times when I wanted to use Yasu in that kind of situation during the regular season,” Ramirez said. “Today was a special day. We needed to win today. There was no tomorrow for us. During the season, we have more games left, but today there was no tomorrow.”
Yamasaki said he didn’t know until the top of the eighth he’d be asked to get four outs.
“I tried to get ready mentally, so I think the time I spent in the bullpen was good,” he said.
With a 3-0 lead prior to Game 4, the Hawks were likely expecting to head back to Fukuoka with the title in tow, but are taking the BayStars back instead.
Van den Hurk got off to a strong start, but ran into trouble in the fifth. He retired the first 11 batters he faced, seven via strikeout, before giving up a double to Lopez and then yielding Tsutsugo’s home run in the fourth. He was charged with four runs in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out eight and walked one. Moinelo took the loss with one run allowed over 1 1/3 frames.
Former Yokohama star Uchikawa was 3-for-4 with an RBI double for SoftBank and Imamiya was 3-for-3. Nakamura was 1-for-5 with his two-run home run and Despaigne picked up an RBI on his sacrifice fly, but finished hitless.
The BayStars closed out their home schedule in style and are now focused on bringing the Japan Series title with them when they return.
“We believe we’re going to be the champions of the Nippon Series,” Ramirez told the crowd after the game. “It’s kind of hard not to win with all your support.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.