Baseball / Japanese Baseball | Sac Bunts

Hawks’ excellence in execution results in trip to Japan Series

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks scripted a masterpiece in the final stage of the Pacific League Climax Series.

The Seibu Lions entered the series having dethroned the Hawks as Pacific League champions and with an offense that had run roughshod to the tune 792 runs during the season. They had a bye through the first stage and had earned the right to host every game of the final stage. The Pa. League even put a cherry on top with the automatic one-game advantage for the pennant winner.

Yet the Hawks still beat them like a drum.

SoftBank manager Kimiyasu Kudo had his charges ready to play and they delivered with a final-stage performance that left few questions about the team’s ability to compete for the Japan Series title against the Hiroshima Carp beginning this week.

“We were just going to challenge them,” Kudo said after the series-clinching victory in Game 5. “That’s it. You don’t know whether you’re going to win or lose, because it’s a competition, but we just wanted to compete with Seibu and beat them. We’ve played with that mindset until now.”

SoftBank beat Seibu by doing all the things the Lions couldn’t. They especially excelled at the plate, where the numbers suggested Seibu should have been superior.

“They’re a good-hitting team,” said Lions pitcher Brian Wolfe, who took the loss in Game 5. “You knew they were going to be aggressive.”

Seibu got loose for 13 runs in Game 2, but it was the SoftBank offense that racked up run totals of 10, 15 and eight before winning 6-5 on Sunday. Series MVP Yuki Yanagita was at the center of it all, hitting .450 with eight RBIs.

“It’s my job to drive in runs,” Yanagita said. “I think I did a good job.”

SoftBank punished the Seibu pitching staff, with eight of the 14 hurlers the Lions used allowing two or more runs. Six of them let in four or more.

Conversely, SoftBank got solid performances from its starters and its relievers rose to the occasion against the fearsome Seibu lineup.

In the manager’s chair, Kudo often pressed the right buttons. He found a way to keep Yurisbel Gracial’s bat in the lineup while also managing the return of injured star Seiichi Uchikawa. Gracial hit .500 with three RBIs and Uchikawa was 5-for-11 with three driven in.

Kudo managed it in part by using All-Star third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda, who hit 32 homers this season, off the bench. One of the keys to the Hawks’ success the past several years has been their depth and Kudo made use of it in various spots.

“It wasn’t only me,” Kudo said. “I spoke with all of our coaches and staff and was trying to make the best decisions in order to win. At the end of the day, you have to win the battles, and we believe we did the right thing to win.

“We might have given some of our players a tough time, but it feels really good that we won and are able to move on to the next stage.”

Of the five games the two teams actually played on the field, the Hawks won four. SoftBank was a matchup nightmare for the Lions in the confines of a playoff series and the defending Japan Series champions exploited the Seibu’s weaknesses.

“They were so dependable,” Kudo said of his players “The way they played in the first stage really led to their growth and they’ve grown even more during this series.”