HIROSHIMA – The winner of Game 1 of the 2018 Japan Series was, well, nobody.
Although the relievers for the Hiroshima Carp and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks certainly warrant an honorable mention.
The Carp scored twice in the first inning, the Hawks scored twice in the fifth, and neither team was able to find its way across home plate after that as Game 1 ended in a 2-2 ,12-inning tie on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 30,727 at Mazda Stadium.
“It was a big tie for us,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said. “We’ll be able to take advantage of it.”
On the same day the MLB saw its longest-ever World Series game end in 7 hours and 20 minutes, the Carp and Hawks played for 4 hours and 38 minutes. Japan Series games are considered ties after 12 innings this season, a departure from the usual 15 frames played in the final round.
The tie was the first in the Japan Series since 2010, when the Chiba Lotte Marines and Chunichi Dragons finished 2-2 in Game 6. It was the first to open a Japan Series since 1986, when the Carp and Seibu Lions played a 14-inning, 2-2 draw in Hiroshima. That was also the last Japan Series to require an eighth game, due to the tie. The Lions won the series 4-3, with Kudo, one of the Lions’ star pitchers, named MVP.
Ryosuke Kikuchi homered and Ryuhei Matsuyama hit an RBI single to give the Carp a 2-0 lead in the first. The Hawks then battled back for a pair of runs, courtesy of a single by Alfredo Despaigne and an error, to tie it in the fifth.
Then it was each team’s relievers coming up big.
The Hawks’ pen took over from starter Kodai Senga in the fifth and put up zeros the rest of the way.
“He did a good job holding them down after he gave up the runs,” Kudo said of Senga. “The other pitchers after him should also be credited for their effort. They all pitched in situations where they couldn’t afford to give up a run.”
On the other side, the Carp bullpen held down SoftBank after Daichi Osera was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth.
“That’s our bullpen,” said Jay Jackson of the six relievers to take the mound for Hiroshima. “That’s how we’ve been all year. Our bullpen has been lockdown for wins and ties all year. We’ve been there, we’ve done it.
“I’m glad to be a part of it. Those guys are amazing back there. They don’t let anything faze them. We’ll just keep grinding. We’ve got six more games to grind it out, hopefully get this championship. It’s just next man up, try to do a job and they do the job. I applaud them for that.”
The Carp got a strong performance from Dominican fireballer Geronimo Franzua in the eighth and ninth, while Jackson and Johnny Hellweg shut the door on SoftBank in the 11th.
Overall, the Hawks’ bullpen limited the Carp to five hits and walked three.
The Carp relievers allowed three hits and walked three.
“We held us in there,” said Hellweg, who is in his first year in NPB. “They pitched well, we pitched well. That’s just how it goes sometimes. I never had a tie game before, so we’ll see how that goes tomorrow.”
The Carp were in position to break the 2-2 deadlock after putting runners on the corners against reliever Shota Takeda in the sixth. Takeda got out of the pinch by getting Tsubasa Aizawa to popup and striking out Tomohiro Abe.
The Hawks’ best chance to break the tie came in the 11th. Keizo Kawashima began the frame with a single and was bunted over to second. Yuki Yanagita was intentionally walked before Akira Nakamura flew out to center, with Kawashima tagging up, for the second out of the inning.
Hellweg entered the game with runners on first and third and hit Seiichi Uchikawa with a fastball in the thigh to load the bases. Kudo brought in Shuhei Fukuda as a pinch hitter, but Hellweg retired him on a fly ball to left to end the threat.
“Just make one pitch and get an out,” Hellweg said of his mindset against Fukuda. “No room to make a mistake there. I knew if I made my pitch that I’d have a good chance to get an out.”
The Carp finished with eight hits, including two each from Kikuchi, Matsuyama and Seiya Suzuki.
Kawashima led the Hawks with a pair of singles that accounted for two of the team’s six hits.
Kikuchi’s home run and a double by Matsuyama in the sixth were the game’s only extra-base hits.
The two squads will still both be looking to pick up their first win of the series in Game 2 on Sunday night at Mazda Stadium.
Kris Johnson is scheduled to take the mound for the Carp against the Hawks’ Rick van den Hurk.
“They have a well-balanced lineup,” Van den Hurk said of the Carp. “We’ve seen that throughout the year and in the playoffs. You just have to stay focused on every single hitter and just keep executing to every single guy.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.