FUKUOKA – The game was still in progress. But some Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks fans picked up their belongings and started walking up the stairs to leave the stadium, when they perhaps thought the team had built a big enough lead to win the ball game.
But the majority who stayed must have felt as though they were walking on thin ice by the final out.
In the end the Hawks barely edged the Hiroshima Carp, beating back an impressive late surge in their 9-8 Japan Series Game 3 win at Yafuoku Dome on Tuesday night.
As much as the team’s first win of the series relieved Hawks fans, it also showed them why their opponents are known as “Gyakuten no Carp,” referring to their exceptional ability to rally back from a deficit.
Out of the 81 wins they posted to capture the Central League pennant this season, Hiroshima collected 41 wins in come-from-behind situations.
The nickname has become part of the Carp brand in the last few years as the organization has returned to its status as a league powerhouse. Hiroshima had 45 come-from-behind wins in 2016, when they racked up their first of three straight Central titles, and 41 last year. They lead all 12 NPB clubs in that statistic in those three years.
After the game, Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo noted that the Carp hitters become even more focused in late frames when the game is on the line.
“They are not going to get retired too easily,” Kudo said. “They try to be patient at the batter’s box, looking for a better pitch to hit.
“We are thankful that we managed to get away with the one-run (lead) in the end. (Closer Yuito) Mori did a good job of surviving (the ninth while he allowed two runners on base).”
Hiroshima’s bats have been hotter than SoftBank’s. Through Game 3, the Carp have hit .306 while SoftBank has come up with a .206 average.
Meanwhile, one big concern the Carp carry is Yoshihiro Maru, whose slump could not come at a worse time. The reigning CL MVP has gone 1-for-12 with just one RBI and eight strikeouts, including four in Tuesday’s game.
Cleanup hitter Seiya Suzuki has been swinging his bat well, hitting .556 with two homers and two RBIs for Hiroshima. But all five of his Game 3 at-bats began with no runners on base. Maru hits in the 3-hole in the lineup.
“I’ve completely caused troubles for my team,” Maru, who had a .306 average, 39 homers and 97 RBIs in the regular season, told reporters after Game 3.
The 29-year-old, who drew 130 walks in 2018, tied for fourth-most in an NPB season, led the CL with a .468 on-base percentage.
While his pitchers, especially of the bullpen, left him anxious after allowing the Carp to make their late surge, Kudo gave them credit for shutting down one of the CL’s fiercest batters.
“It was big for us to hold (Maru) down,” the skipper said.