Baseball / Japanese Baseball

SoftBank hopes for home advantage as Japan Series shifts to Fukuoka

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks are finally back home.

After a prolonged period of playing on the road, the Hawks returned to Fukuoka on Monday as the Japan Series shifted a little over an hour (by shinkansen) west for a practice day on Monday ahead of Game 3, which takes place Tuesday night at Yafuoku Dome.

The Hawks returned home trailing the Hiroshima Carp 1-0 in the series after a 2-2 tie in Game 1 and a 5-1 loss in Game 2. The team held a very light workout Monday that was mostly attended by a few pitchers.

“We have to start fresh from now,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said.

For the Carp, pitchers Aren Kuri, who will start Game 3, Yusuke Nomura and Daichi Osera tested out the mound at Yafuoku Dome.

Hiroshima starters Kris Johnson, Kuri and Osera pitched at the Hawks’ dome during interleague play in June. Kuri was the only one to leave with a victory, allowing four runs and striking out eight over the distance in a 13-4 Hiroshima win on June 17.

Nomura faced SoftBank at Yafuoku Dome during interleague.

“I don’t remember at all,” Nomura said of his experience with the mound.

SoftBank’s last game at Yafuoku Dome was Oct. 15, when the team defeated the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the Game 3 of the Pacific League Climax Series First Stage. Since then, the Hawks played all five games of the Pa. League final stage against the Seibu Lions on the road and were also visitors for the first two games of the Japan Series.

Now the club gets to play in front of its own fans for a change.

“I appreciate all our fans,” Kudo said. “Since the players are trying to win the Japan Series, I want to show them a victory by bearing down and playing Hawks baseball.”

Kudo acknowledged the Carp will also likely have a lot of support from their famously enthusiastic fanbase.

“Carp fans are amazing wherever they go,” he said.

Hiroshima supporters will have even more to cheer about if Kuri gets off to a good start in Game 3.

“Each of the SoftBank batters can hit for power and they’re all very good,” Kuri said. “I’ll just try to compete with them one batter at a time.”

Kuri, who made his debut in 2014, didn’t pitch for the Carp during the 2016 Japan Series. As a result he’ll be getting his first taste of the Japanese Fall Classic, which he used to watch on television as a child.

“I feel inspired this is a stage you can really step on and pitch on,” Kuri said. “But I’ve never pitched in it, so I don’t know what the atmosphere in the stadium will be like. I just want to pitch the way I know I can.”

He also said the stage hasn’t given him any extra boost in terms of energy or nerves as he prepares for his Japan Series debut.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” Kuri said. “I’ve really just been preparing the way I always do.”

Softbank starter Ariel Miranda will also be pitching in the Japan Series for the first time in Game 3. The left-hander will be hoping for a better outing than he had during the final stage of the Climax Series, when he allowed seven runs over two innings against the Lions on Oct. 18 at MetLife Dome.

Being back in a Pacific League park will allow the Hawks to unleash a full-strength lineup after playing two games without the designated hitter in Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.

SoftBank could use a boost at the plate, having been limited to 10 singles over the first two games. Alfredo Despaigne and Nobuhiro Matsuda are the only SoftBank players with RBIs so far. The Hawks are especially hoping the change of venue helps Yuki Yanagita’s bat heat up.

The SoftBank star was just 1-for-6, with a pair of walks, in the first two games.

In addition to Game 3, the Hawks will also host Games 4 and 5 before the series returns to Hiroshima, if necessary.

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report