TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. - It took 18 games and 13 losing decisions for Yusei Kikuchi to finally pick up a win against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
The Hawks only needed one big inning to both restore order and also get even in their climax series matchup.
SoftBank tagged Kikuchi for five runs in the fourth and kept the hits coming against the Saitama Seibu Lions’ relievers on the way to a 10-4 victory in Game 1 of the Pacific League Climax Series on Wednesday night at MetLife Dome.
The Hawks evened the series at 1-1 after the Lions were given an automatic one-game advantage as the league champions.
“It was huge that we got a win here,” said Hawks starter Rick van den Hurk. “It’s important because you’re already down 1-0. I’m very happy we played the way we did and that we got the win tonight.”
The top of the SoftBank order did much of the damage with the team’s 1-2-3 hitters, Keizo Kawashima, Seiji Uebayashi and Yurisbel Gracial combining for seven hits and seven RBIs.
Kawashima, whose sayonara single decided last year’s Japan Series, had three hits and three RBIs, Gracial had three hits and two RBIs.
“I didn’t have three hits in a game all season,” Kawashima said. “It was fluke.”
Cleanup hitter Yuki Yanagita also drove in a run and Yuya Hasegawa added a pinch-hit two-run single in the seventh. The Hawks finished with 16 hits.
Van den Hurk allowed four runs on but still walked away the winner. He allowed seven hits and struck out eight in six innings.
He also gave up a pair of home runs to Takumi Kuriyama and PL home run champion Hotaka Yamakawa, but wasn’t about to argue with the final result.
“That’s the lineup they have,” van den Hurk said, referring to a Seibu side which led Japan with 792 runs scored. “They have a strong lineup. We got an early lead and I just pitched to the scoreboard. I wanted to keep attacking and keep throwing strikes. That’s what I did. In the end, the most important thing was to give the team an opportunity to win and that we got the win tonight.”
It was trying night on the mound for Kikuchi, Seibu’s talented left-handed ace who many expect to be pitching in the majors next season. Kikuchi was pitching in the final stage for the first time, but doing so against a team that’s flummoxed him like none other.
“I didn’t really feel any nervousness,” Kikuchi said. “I just didn’t throw good balls consistently.”
Kikuchi had been 0-13 in his career against the Hawks before finally breaking through for a victory on Sept. 28 of this year. He entered the game 1-13 with a 5.16 ERA against SoftBank.
He allowed a run in the first inning on Wednesday, but made it through the next two unscathed, despite not being quite as sharp as usual.
Then the wheels fell off. Kikuchi faced all nine Hawks in the fourth and allowed a two-run single to Kawashima, a two-run triple to Uebayashi and then an RBI single against Gracial.
“I’m glad I was able to get a hit because I wanted to add on another run after Keizo-san’s hit had given up the lead,” Uebayashi said.
For Kikuchi, who allowed all three run-scoring hits with two outs, it was a lost opportunity.
“I allowed a hit and a walk to the Nos. 8 and 9 batters,” Kikuchi said referring to Tetsuro Nishida, who singled and Takuya Kai, who walked. “If I had retired one of them, I could’ve gotten out of the inning.”
He returned to face the Hawks in the fifth before being relieved by Ken Togame to begin the sixth.
Gracial hit a two-out double in the first and Yanagita followed him with an RBI single to make the score 1-0.
After Yuji Kaneko hit a one-out single for the Lions in the third, Sosuke Genda tied the score with a two-out triple. The Lions then went ahead 2-1 on a single up the middle by the next batter, captain Hideto Asamura.
After SoftBank exploded to go ahead 6-2 in the fourth, Kuriyama pulled one back for Seibu with his homer in the bottom half of the inning.
Gracial drove in another for the Hawks in the sixth, but Yamakawa made it 7-4 with his blast in the bottom half.
SoftBank added three more in the seventh on Hasegawa’s two-run hit and Kawashima’s third RBI of the night.
Game 2 of the series will be Thursday. The Lions will send Shinsaburo Tawata to the mound, with the Lions countering with Ariel Miranda.
Carp rout Giants in opener
Daichi Osera (1-0) allowed a run over six innings and cleanup hitter Seiya Suzuki belted a two-run home run as the CL-winning Hiroshima Carp opened the best-of-six series with a 6-1 win over the Yomiuri Giants on Wednesday.
“My first thought tonight was not to let them score first,” said Osera, who allowed five hits and walked three but pitched out of a two-out jam in the sixth, when he allowed his only run.
Suzuki’s home run made it 3-1 in the fourth against Christopher Mercedes (0-1), who gave up another run in the inning on a Tsubasa Aizawa RBI single. A year ago, the Carp won the league but were knocked out of the Climax Series final stage, with Suzuki out of action due to an injury.
“I had a lot of frustration from not being able to play last year, so I really wanted to play well this kind of big game this year,” he said.
Yoshihiro Maru, a candidate to repeat as CL MVP next month, homered in the seventh, while Tomohiro Abe singled in a run in the eighth. The trio of former Giant Ryuji Ichioka, Geronimo Franzua and closer Shota Nakazaki retired the last nine Giants.
Because of Hiroshima’s one-win advantage, the Carp now lead 2-0 and are just two wins away from reaching the Japan Series.