Hawks capture Japan Series crown on Keizo Kawashima’s sayonara single in 11th

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

There will be no Game 7.

Seiichi Uchikawa, Dennis Sarfate and Keizo Kawashima made sure of that, and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and their fans breathed big sighs of relief before succumbing to the joy and elation of winning the Japan Series.

Uchikawa hit a game-tying solo home run in the ninth, Sarfate threw three scoreless innings of relief and Kawashima finished off this Japan Series with a sayonara single that gave the Hawks a series-clinching 4-3 victory over the Yokohama BayStars in Game 6 in front of a crowd of 36,118 on Saturday night at Yafuoku Dome.

It was the fourth time the Japan Series was decided on a sayonara hit.

“Including my time as a player, I’ve never been as thrilled as I was during this series,” said Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo, who won 11 Japan Series titles as a player and has now captured two as a manager.

The Hawks, pushed to six games after winning the first three of the series, are Japan Series champions for the third time since 2014. They also wore the crown in 2011.

“This feeling, it doesn’t get old,” Sarfate said.

It’s a feeling the BayStars haven’t felt since 1998, the last time the franchise was in the Japan Series. After falling behind 3-0 in the series, the BayStars, who finished third in the Central League, came two outs away from forcing a Game 7.

“I told the players what a wonderful year it was for us,” Yokohama manager Alex Ramirez said. “This is not a loss to me. We gained so much from being here.”

One of their former stars helped put the nail in the coffin in Game 6.

Uchikawa spent the first 10 seasons of his career in Yokohama before signing with the Hawks and returning to his native Kyushu Prefecture in 2011.

“We didn’t get the chance to give our fans the dream of becoming Japan Series champions when I was with the team,” Uchikawa said. “People were saying I was facing my former team, but I was focused on winning the title.”

The BayStars didn’t go down without a fight. Playing with their backs against the wall yet again, Yokohama nearly lived to fight for one more day

Starter Shota Imanaga did his part, striking out 11 over seven-plus innings. He was charged with a pair of runs and allowed two hits.

Nobuhiro Matsuda got the Hawks on the board with a solo homer in the second inning. Yokohama tied the score on a solo shot by Hiroyuki Shirasaki in the fifth and went ahead later in the inning on a two-run single by Jose Lopez.

SoftBank pulled a run back on an RBI groundout by Yuki Yanagita in the eighth.

Kudo then went to Sarfate, the closer who recorded an NPB-record 54 saves this season, to make sure the BayStars didn’t add to the lead in the ninth.

Sarfate ended up throwing three innings after not tossing more than one all year.

“Coming into the ninth inning, If I could get a quick inning, I knew we had a chance,” Sarfate said. “I just wanted to go one, and then we tied it, and I go, yeah, I’ve gotta go another one. Once I came in from that second one, I said I’m not coming out of this game. I knew if we kept putting up zeros, we were going to score first. My teammates always back me up, and that’s what they did.”

Sarfate was named MVP of the series.

Uchikawa stepped to the plate with one out in the ninth and ignited the crowd with his home run off BayStars closer Yasuaki Yamasaki.

“I was definitely thinking I needed to do something, because we were behind by a run and Dennis was pitching,” Uchikawa said. “It wasn’t my first time to face Yamasaki. So I had something to work off.”

Yamasaki was left to rue a fat pitch that got hit.

“At the end of the day, Uchikawa was better than me,” Yamasaki said. “That one pitch is something I have to try not to do again. It was a two-seamer, and he got it good.”

In the 11th, Uchikawa and Akira Nakamura each drew a walk with one out, with Shuhei Fukuda coming on to run for Uchikawa. Matsuda hit a grounder to third, but while Yokohama forced out the lead runner, the BayStars couldn’t double up Matsuda at first.

That gave Kawashima a chance, and he delivered with a ball through the right side that allowed Nakamura to score the series-winning run.

“We had to win today, because I had nothing left for tomorrow,” Sarfate said. “These guys, they played so hard. First of all, I have to thank God, because without God, I can’t do any of this.

“The BayStars, what a great job that they did. But my teammates, man, I would go to war with these guys. I love them all. A guy like Keizo comes up, I’m yelling, ‘be the hero buddy, be the hero,’ and there he was. He’s the hero.”

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report