Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Hawks triumph over Carp in Game 3 slugfest

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks put their fans through a myriad of emotions in Game 3 of the Japan Series.

There was the relief of finally scoring first, the rapturous joy of blowing the game open and then the trepidation of watching the Hiroshima Carp claw their way back one home run at a time.

By the time the final out was secured, there was whole lot of joy accompanied by just as much relief among the SoftBank faithful.

While Game 3 saw the Hawks’ Alfredo Despaigne hit a three-run homer and the Carp’s Tomohiro Abe connect on a solo shot and a grand slam, it was a seventh-inning solo homer by Hiroaki Takaya, which at the time looked like only the cherry on top of a blowout, that ended up being the difference in the Hawks’ 9-8 victory on Tuesday night at Yafuoku Dome.

“I feel relieved,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said. “It felt good to win.”

The win, which came in front of a crowd of 35,746 that was also full of Carp supporters, evened the series at 1-1 — Game 1 ended in a tie.

It was also the Hawks’ 10th straight victory at home in the Japan Series, dating back to their win over the Chunichi Dragons in Game 7 in 2011.

“When we play here, we play with a lot of energy,” Kudo said. “So we want to make sure we play our style of baseball tomorrow and the day after tomorrow too.”

SoftBank looked like it would cruise to the win at one point on Tuesday.

The Hawks led 4-3 in the sixth, when Kenji Akashi and Yurisbel Gracial kept the inning going with a pair of two-out singles. Yuki Yanagita drove in a run with a single, and Despaigne crushed a three-run shot to right to make the score 8-3.

“I was just looking for a hittable pitch in the zone,” Despaigne said.

Takaya, who entered the game as a defensive replacement in the top of the seventh, hit his solo shot to right with two-outs in the bottom half of the inning to make the score 9-3.

Seiya Suzuki then began the eighth, and the Hiroshima rally, with his second solo home run of the night.

After a nice catch by Seiji Uebayashi in right field robbed Ryuhei Matsuyama of a hit, the Carp loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. Abe then connected on his second homer of the night, a grand slam that pulled Hiroshima within a run at 9-8.

“They really are incredible,” Kudo said of the Carp rally.

Yuito Mori, who led the Pacific League with 37 saves this season, took the mound for the Hawks in the ninth. Mori struck out Yoshihiro Maru before allowing a single to Suzuki. He retired Matsuyama for the second out, but a single by Xavier Batista put runners on the corners.

Mori threw a cutter to Takayoshi Noma and the Carp outfielder made contact, but hit a grounder to Akira Nakamura at first base as the Hawks held on for the win.

The Carp outhit the Hawks 16-12 on a night when there was plenty of offense to go around.

“They have a great offense and are a great team,” Despaigne said. “We thought we had a large enough margin to win it, but we couldn’t afford to let our guard down in the end. It was really a great game.”

The Cuban slugger had an RBI groundout in the fifth before his homer in the sixth and finished with four RBIs. He’s had a strong postseason and is hitting .375 in the Japan Series.

“I haven’t changed anything in my routine since Day 1 of the regular season,” he said.

Yanagita was 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs, while Kenta Imamiya, Nakamura and Takaya drove in one run each.

“They all tried to do anything they could to score runs,” Kudo said. “Plus Despaigne hit that home run to the opposite field, so I think that will give them (the Carp) something to think about going forward.”

Abe had the best night on either side, with a solo home run in the fifth to go with his eighth-inning grand slam. He was 2-for-3 with five RBIs overall.

Suzuki finished 3-for-5 with solo homers in the sixth and eighth innings. Tsubasa Aizawa also had a three-hit night and finished with an RBI.

Maru, who hit .306 and drove in 97 runs during the regular season, continued to struggle at plate, going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in Game 3. He’s the sixth player to strikeout four times in a Japan Series games. Maru is 1-for-12 in the series.

The Hawks, who had been playing on the road since finishing the first stage the Pacific League Climax Series on Oct. 15, will be back home for Game 4 on Wednesday.

Nao Higashihama will get the start on the mound for SoftBank, with the Carp send out Yusuke Nomura.

“We hit well today and that took away some of the nerves of playing in the Japan Series,” Kudo said. “So our players played the way they usually play. Hopefully we can keep it up moving forward.”

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report