Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Kris Johnson, Seiya Suzuki lead way as Carp silence Hawks in Game 2 of Japan Series

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

This time there was a winner.

Kris Johnson, Seiya Suzuki and the rest of the Hiroshima Carp made sure of it.

Johnson delivered a strong performance on the mound, Suzuki had three hits and drove in three runs and the Carp struck first in this Japan Series with a 5-1 win in Game 2 in front of a crowd of 31,356 on Sunday night at Mazda Stadium.

“(Johnson) really did a great job and gave us the chance to win,” Carp manager Koichi Ogata said. “Also, it was big for us to get on the scoreboard first. (Kosuke) Tanaka, Seiya (Suzuki) and (Ryuhei) Matsuyama all did a great job.”

Hiroshima’s victory comes a day after the teams played out a 2-2 tie in Game 1 and gives the Central League champions a 1-0 lead in the series.

“I was exhausted,” Suzuki said of Saturday’s 12-inning tie, which lasted 4 hours and 38 minutes. “So we tried to play faster and it felt good to do it.”

Game 3 is Tuesday night in Fukuoka.

“We’ll be the visitors, but we’ll try not to be overwhelmed by the atmosphere and just play our game,” Suzuki said.

Johnson carved through the Hawks in order over the first three innings, yielding his first baserunner on a walk to Keizo Kawashima to start the fourth. After allowing a single to the next batter, Kenta Imamiya, and an error by Yoshihiro Maru in the outfield, Johnson was left with runners on the corners and no outs.

He went on to retire the next 10 Hawks in order.

“That’s the time you really need to make your pitches,” Johnson said of the fourth. “Knuckle down, as we say, really execute all your pitches.”

Johnson threw seven innings of one-run ball in the win, allowing four hits and striking out seven.

“I struggled a little bit early trying to locate away to righties, but once I settled that down, everything was thrown for strikes for the most part,” Johnson said. “It was just a good overall mix.”

Including his final start of the regular season and a turn in the CL Climax Series Final Stage, Johnson has allowed two runs in his last 22 innings.

Suzuki continued to deliver at the plate for Hiroshima, finishing 3-for-4 after picking up a pair of hits in Game 1. He drove in the team’s first run with an infield single in the first and singled in two more in the fifth.

“He has a great fastball, so I tried to not swing too hard and stay compact and was just thinking about getting on base to set the table to the others,” he said of facing Hawks starter Rick van den Hurk. “I’ve had some good at-bats since the series began, but I want to reset and hopefully I can make good adjustments.”

Maru and Matsuyama also drove in runs for Hiroshima.

Nobuhiro Matsuda accounted for Softbank’s only run with a single in the seventh. The Hawks finished with four singles and were held without an extra-base hit for the second straight night.

SoftBank starter Rick van den Hurk was charged with the loss after allowing five runs — three earned — on eight hits over five innings. He struck out seven.

“Van den Hurk and I go way back,” Johnson said. The pitchers were both in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 2012. “We actually played as teammates a ways back. He’s a great pitcher.

“I definitely had the mindset of coming into a pitcher’s duel. We’ve pitched against him before. All I can say is he’s a great pitcher. We just got to him this time.”

Tanaka began Van den Hurk’s troubles in the first with a double to left that got past Alfredo Despaigne. Tanaka then advanced on Ryosuke Kikuchi’s sacrifice bunt. Maru went down swinging, but Suzuki hit a bouncing ball up the middle and beat shortstop Imamiya’s throw to first as a run scored.

Tanaka began the third with a single, and a throwing error by second baseman Kawashima, on a ball hit by Kikuchi, left the Carp with runners on second and third. Maru hit a fly ball into foul territory in left and Tanaka tagged up to score when Despaigne caught the ball. Matsuyama later added to the lead with a two-out RBI single to make it 3-0.

Kawashima walked to begin the SoftBank half of the fourth. Imamiya followed with a single and Kawashima advanced to third when Maru mishandled the ball in center field on the same play.

Johnson responded by getting Yurisbel Gracial to line out to the shortstop, striking out Yuki Yanagita and retiring Despaigne on a ground ball to end the inning.

“He got out of it in the best way possible,” catcher Yoshiyuki Ishihara said.

Yanagita and Despaigne hit consecutive one-out singles in the seventh and Matsuda later sent a ball up the middle for an RBI single. Takuya Kai nearly did more damage with a grounder to right, but a diving stop by Matsuyama at first base helped end the inning.

The series shifts to Kyushu for the next three games beginning on Tuesday.

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report