Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Hawks repeat PL dominance, defeat Lions to reach Japan Series

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The 2018 NPB season didn’t quite go the way the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks had planned. Even so, they’re going to end it right where they expected to be all along.

In the Japan Series.

The dynastic Hawks have won four of the last seven Japan Series titles and will play for another next week after clinching the Pacific League Climax Series crown with a 6-5 win over the Seibu Lions in Game 5 of their final-stage series on Sunday.

The Hawks will face the Hiroshima Carp in the Japan Series.

“We’ve come this far, so we’re just going shoot for four more wins,” Hawks outfielder Yuki Yanagita said.

The one-run contest was the most competitive game in a series of blowouts. The Hawks won by scores of 10-4, 15-4 and 8-2 in Games 1, 3 and 4. Seibu won Game 2 13-5.

“We’ve been able to win games here going back to the regular season,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said. “Seibu’s strength was outstanding, so to win like this is really rewarding.”

Yanagita drove in four runs and hit his second home run in as many days and Seiji Uebayashi provided a late cushion with a two-run triple in the eighth.

“I owe it to the batters before me who set the table,” Yanagita said. “As for the home run, I just tried to hit the ball hard so it’d fly further.

“When we have chances, I try to hit with the mindset that even a sacrifice fly is OK. When we don’t have runners on, I bat thinking it’d be great if I could hit a homer.”

SoftBank officially won the series 4-2, but was 4-1 against the PL champions in the five games played on the field. The Hawks, who finished second in the PL, became the first team since the 2010 Chiba Lotte Marines to overcome the one-game advantage the pennant winner is given in the final stage.

SoftBank will face the Central League champion Hiroshima Carp in the Japan Series, which begins Saturday at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.

SoftBank will now head to the Japanese Fall Classic against the Carp. The series will begin on Saturday at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.

“As the Pacific League representatives, we want make sure we have a great battle against the Central League team,” Kudo said.

Seibu now heads into an offseason that arrived earlier than expected. The Lions won the Pacific League pennant for the first time since 2008 and had visions of celebrating their 40th year in Saitama with a Japan Series crown.

Manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji spoke through tears as he reflected on the season.

“We fought with everything we had until today,” he said.

The manager praised the way his team bounced back from the disappointment of losing in the first stage last year and hoped Sunday’s defeat will help spur them on in 2019.

“We are going to come together and become the top team in Japan next year,” Tsuji said. “Next year starts from now.”

The Lions ended the regular season in first place by 6½ games and with 792 runs scored, the most in Japan.

“We did real well, especially our hitters,” said Game 5 starter Brian Wolfe. “They were unbelievable this year.

“The pitching, we could’ve stepped it up a little more in the playoffs.”

Yanagita finished 2-for-4 with four RBIs in the clinching game. The SoftBank star was named MVP of the series after hitting .450 with a pair of homers and eight RBIs in the final stage.

“I don’t know if I’m really deserving, but it’s all thanks to everybody,” Yanagita said. “I’ll give the prize money to the team staff.”

Uebayashi drove in 10 runs during the series, including six in Game 3.

SoftBank’s Shuta Ishikawa earned the win in relief with 1⅓ scoreless innings.

Wolfe took the loss for Seibu after allowing four runs over 5⅔ innings. The Hawks jumped on him early, loading the bases to start the game after Uebayashi doubled, Kenji Akashi was hit and Yurisbel Gracial bunted.

“The hit batsman kinda hurt a little bit,” Wolfe said. “He trying to bunt and give himself up and I ended up hitting him. Then I think Gracial tricked us all with that bunt.”

Yanagita then cleared the bases with his double.

“He worked a full count,” Wolfe said. “We worked him in and away and left the ball up a little bit away and he just took it the other way.”

Wolfe was able to regroup and keep the game close over the rest of his outing.

“We kind of got through it and we kind of settled down,” he said.

Lions captain Hideto Asamura drove in two runs for Seibu and Tomoya Mori also had an RBI. It just wasn’t enough for the PL champions.

The Lions trailed for the entire game, but had scored twice in the fifth, cutting the Hawks lead to 3-2, when their momentum was stopped by a close call.

With two outs and Sosuke Genda at the plate, Shogo Akiyama attempted to steal second as catcher Takuya Kai came up throwing. Akiyama slid into the bag as the tag was being applied and was incredulous when umpire Daisei Sugimoto called him out.

Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji asked for a review and the umpiring crew disappeared for several minutes to go over the replay.

When the they returned after a lengthy review, the call was upheld, ending the inning. Lions fans then loudly voiced their displeasure when the umpires took the field for the start of the sixth.