Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Fighters tie series with clutch eighth inning

Kyodo

Three straight two-out, eighth-inning doubles by Haruki Nishikawa, Taishi Ota and Kensuke Konda lifted the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to a 4-2 win in Sunday’s Game 2 of the Pacific League Climax Series’ first stage against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

The Fighters now are a win away from advancing to the final stage against the PL champion Seibu Lions for the right to play in the Japan Series. The Hawks, who host the first stage by virtue of finishing ahead of the Fighters in the regular season, can advance with either a win or a tie in Monday’s Game 3.

After the Hawks tied the game 2-2 on Tomoki Takata’s seventh-inning RBI single, Fighters leadoff man Nishikawa got things rolling against reliever Ren Kajiya (0-1). The left-handed sparkplug golfed a low 0-1 fastball to the gap in right that nearly cleared the low wall in front of the outfield field seats.

Kajiya fooled Ota with a couple of forkballs to get ahead in the count but then only found the strike zone when he missed dead center with a 3-2 fastball that Ota drilled to the gap in left.

“We all came here with nothing on our minds but winning. We were prepared and succeeded,” Ota said after the Fighters staved off elimination following Saturday’s 8-3 rout. “I swung at balls out of the zone and fell behind, but I was eager to hit and I was fortunate it went where it did.”

“I’m relieved to have gotten a hit, but we have another game tomorrow and now it’s time to prepare for that.”

Kondo followed by putting a sweet swing on a forkball in the zone, and plated Ota from second.

Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo shrugged off the setback to Kajiya, who pitched in 72 games this season.

“Sometimes pitchers give up hits,” said Kudo, who won 224 games in his long career. “I had confidence in him during the regular season and that’s not going to change now.”

The Fighters opened the scoring at Yafuoku Dome in the third inning, when Toshitake Yokoo homered off right-hander Kodai Senga. An error by shortstop Takata put Ota on to lead off the fourth and he scored after singles by Sho Nakata and Oswaldo Arcia.

Akira Nakamura’s solo home run off Nick Martinez (1-0) to lead off the fourth halved the Fighters’ lead. But Martinez retired nine of the next 10 batters to preserve the lead. Alfredo Despaigne, whose grand slam had been the big blow for the Hawks on Saturday, doubled to open the bottom of the seventh and scored on Takata’s single.

Lefty Naoki Miyanishi worked a scoreless eighth, while closer Naoya Ishikawa pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to earn the save.

The Hawks have announced Nao Higashihama as their starter for Monday’s finale, while the Fighters are set to go with Toshihiro Sugiura.