Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Yuki Yanagita delivers walk-off blast in 10th as Hawks down Carp to take 3-1 lead in Japan Series

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

They may have needed an extra inning to get there, but the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks were right where they wanted to be when Game 5 ended, 4 hours and 25 minutes after it began.

On the brink of yet another Japan Series title.

Yuki Yanagita, a Hiroshima native, sent the second pitch he saw to lead off the 10th inning into the home run terrace in right field to give the Hawks a sayonara 5-4 victory over the Hiroshima Carp on Thursday night in front of a crowd of 35,917 at Yafuoku Dome.

“I was thinking something like that might happen, but I didn’t really think it would happen right then,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said. “My heart was pounding like it was going to pop out of my chest.”

Yanagita didn’t initially think it would happen then either. Especially not with a broken bat.

“I hit it with the top of my bat,” he said. “When I hit it, I was thinking ‘my bat is broken.’ But it went further than I thought. It was my first home run with a broken bat.”

The Hawks, who tied the first game and lost the second, won all three of their home games to take a 3-1 lead in the series, which will resume on Saturday in Hiroshima. SoftBank can clinch its fifth title since 2011, and second straight, with a victory in either Game 6 or 7.

“We wanted to do whatever it took to finish the last game at Yafuoku Dome with a win,” Kudo said. “Now we’re one win away from the title and hopefully…I mean we will become Japan Series champions the day after tomorrow.”

The Carp, seeking their first Japan Series crown since 1984, have to win the next two games to force a rare Game 8 (in play due to the tie in the opener), and then win that game in order to claim the series.

Yanagita urged Hawks fans to make the trip to Hiroshima for Game 6, but for those who can’t, the team will hold a public viewing at Yafuoku Dome.

Yanagita’s shot made a winner out of reliever Ren Kajiya, who had a nightmarish outing in Game 3, when he allowed five runs, on a solo homer and a grand slam, in the eighth inning of the team’s 9-8 win.

Kajiya, one of the final three pitchers the Hawks had left, took the mound in the top of the 10th. He immediately walked Seiya Suzuki, who had hit the first homer off him in Game 3. Suzuki then advanced to second on a bunt by pinch hitter Kaisei Sone.

Kajiya sent slugger Xavier Batista down swinging on a 2-2 forkball and retired Tomohiro Abe on a grounder to second to end the inning.

Yanagita strode to the plate to start the 10th against Shota Nakazaki, the Carp’s All-Star closer who had pitched around a leadoff single to retire the Hawks on nine pitches in the ninth.

He started Yanagita off with a fastball out of the zone, but his second offering, a slider, caught enough of the plate for Yanagita to turn on it and send the Hawks fans into hysterics.

“In my head, I was hoping for Yanagita to get the hit,” Kudo said. “I give all the credit to him. He did the job our cleanup hitter is supposed to do. He’s been our centerpiece all year long and he just showed why. He did a great job.”

Yanagita, who also had a walk, finished 1-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. He’s hitting .278 with four RBIs in the series. Akira Nakamura was 2-for-4 with two RBIs for the Hawks, while Kenji Akashi drove in a run with a solo homer.

The Hawks have won the last 12 Japan Series contests they’ve played at home since 2011. Pacific League teams are on a roll overall, having won the last 15 Japan Series games played in PL ballparks.

Yanagita’s homer ended a back-and-forth struggle between the two clubs.

The Carp took the first lead of the night on an RBI single by Tsubasa Aizawa in the second.

SoftBank punched back in the fourth on a two-run single by Nakamura, but lost the lead in the very next frame when Carp star Yoshihiro Maru hit a two-run homer that put Hiroshima ahead 3-2 in the top of the fifth.

The Hawks’ Takuya Kai and Seiji Uebayashi singled to start the bottom of the fifth — with Uebayashi’s hit upheld on a replay review. Akashi bunted the runners over and Carp manager Koichi Ogata summoned Johnny Hellweg out of the bullpen in relief of starter Daichi Osera.

Hellweg hit Yurisbel Gracial to load the bases and then threw to first, instead of home, on a grounder by Yanagita as the Hawks tied the score.

Aizawa put the Carp back in front with a solo home run to left in the sixth, but SoftBank pulled even again when Akashi went deep in the seventh.

“He was saying it was a miracle, but it was his never-say-die attitude that led to the home run,” Kudo said.

Game 6 is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at Mazda Stadium.

“It’ll be pretty tough to get one more win” Yanagita said. “So we’ll do our best as a team. We really have great players, and if we come together as one, I believe we’ll win.”

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report