TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. - Rick van den Hurk just knows how to win under the bright lights.
The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ Dutch right-hander proved it again on Wednesday night at MetLife Dome, when he helped lead the Hawks to a 10-4 victory over the Pacific League champion Seibu Lions in Game 1 of the Pacific League Climax Series Final Stage.
The victory ran Van den Hurk’s postseason record with SoftBank to 4-0 since he arrived in Japan in 2015.
“Thank you to my teammates and the way they played,” Van den Hurk said. “This organization, every time, they build winners. I’m just very thankful to be a part of this group of guys. I’m happy with the way we played and that we got a victory.”
The 33-year-old knows a thing or two about winning streaks. He set a record by winning his first 14 NPB decisions from 2015-2016. In the playoffs, he’s pitched the Hawks to victory in both Climax Series and Japan Series contests, earning one of the Outstanding Player awards during the 2015 Japan Series.
Winning Game 1 was huge for the Hawks. They went into the series already trailing 1-0 because of the one-game advantage the Lions were afforded as league champions. Against a team as strong as Seibu, which will also host every game, avoiding a 2-0 hole was vital to SoftBank’s chances of defending its title.
“The first game is really important,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo told Nikkan Sports. “The players all did their best. Now, which (team) is going to win three more?”
Van den Hurk got plenty of help in Game 1. Keizo Kawashima went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, Yurisbel Gracial was 3-for-5 with two RBIs, and Seiji Uebayashi’s only hit of the night was a two-run triple.
With his teammates doing what they usually do to Lions starter Yusei Kikuchi, who entered the game 1-13 during his career against SoftBank, Van den Hurk just concentrated on staying aggressive.
“Just throwing a lot of strikes, getting in good counts and staying in good counts and keeping them off balance,” he said. “We made some great plays. That helps of course.”
He didn’t stop the Lions, Takumi Kuriyama and Hotaka Yamakawa each hit a solo homer, but he contained them. Because of that, the Hawks headed into Game 2 on even-footing with Seibu.
Van den Hurk allowed four runs over six innings in the victory. He did better than his counterpart, who allowed six runs in his six innings.
Kikuchi, who could be posted to MLB this offseason, was being cheered on by a group of fans who had traveled from Iwate Prefecture, where the pitcher is from. But he wasn’t able to come up with the victory.
“It’s really regrettable because it was my job to slow them down in the first game,” Kikuchi said.
Kikuchi was left hoping to perform better if the Lions need him later in the series.
Van den Hurk will also be ready in the event Kudo calls on him to go out and try and score another big victory before it’s all said and done.
“Any game, any situation, we just gotta focus now,” he said. “Just one game at a time, one hitter at a time. It’s still a long series, so we’ve just got to continue to stay focused and keep the momentum going.”