Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Fumiya Hojo-led Tigers stage spirited rally against BayStars in CL Climax Series opener

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Big, improbable comebacks are becoming the Hanshin Tigers’ speciality.

Fumiya Hojo hit a three-run home run to get the Tigers close in the seventh and put them ahead with a two-run triple in the eighth as a spirited rally resulted in an 8-7 win over the Yokohama BayStars in Game 1 of the Central League Climax Series First Stage on Saturday at Yokohama Stadium.

“I’m tired,” Hojo said after the game, which took over four hours to complete.

Clawing out of a six-run hole earned Hanshin a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.

“The players are really amazing,” Tigers manager Akihiro Yano said. “They’re playing with a purpose. Every one of them fought today. The reserves came up really big and also the pitchers.

“Of course, Hojo was the hero, but we played with all we had and I’m really happy about that. They didn’t give up, even when it got difficult.”

That’s become a trend.

The Tigers needed a season-ending six-game winning streak to surge past the Hiroshima Carp and into third place in the Central League just to make it into the Climax Series.

Once the postseason began, they found themselves in a 7-1 hole heading into the seventh inning on Saturday.

“We played with the feeling that we weren’t going to give up,” Hojo said.

The Tigers had been held to one run and four hits by BayStars starter Kenta Ishida and ace Shota Imanaga, who came out of the bullpen, through six innings.

But after the Tigers faithful in left field belted out “Rokko Oroshi” (The Wind of Mount Rokko), the team’s fight song, to signal the start of the “lucky” seventh, the winds began to shift.

Shun Takayama hit a one-out double and Seiya Kinami followed with an RBI single to make it 7-2 against reliever Edison Barrios, who started the inning.

Koji Chikamoto then hit a single off new pitcher Edwin Escobar and Hojo made it a game again with his three-run homer.

Kinami hit another RBI single in the eighth and a single by Chikamoto sent the BayStars to the bullpen again, this time for Yuki Kuniyoshi. By then, the Tigers were already roaring and would not be denied.

Hojo then sent a ball over the head of center fielder Kazuki Kamizato to give the Tigers an 8-7 lead with a two-run triple.

“It was a very good game until that point,” BayStars manager Alex Ramirez said. “Unfortunately, 7-1 until that point, Barrios and Escobar gave up a couple of runs and after that they (Hanshin) just kept the momentum, kept coming back.”

Suguru Iwazaki kept the BayStars off the board in the eighth and veteran Kyuji Fujikawa closed it out in the ninth.

Ramirez said he didn’t have any misgivings about the way he used his pitchers.

“I think it was done the right way,” he said. “There are no regrets about the way I used the pitchers today. That happens. Sometimes they hit and sometimes they don’t hit. That’s part of the game.”

Hojo finished 2-for-4 for Hanshin and drove in five runs.

“It’s really thanks to everyone,” he said.

Kinami had a pair of RBI singles after coming on as a pinch hitter in the seventh and Ryutaro Umeno also drove in a run. Chikamoto, a rookie, finished with three hits.

Rafael Dolis earned the win in relief, with Escobar taking the loss.

Tigers starter Yuki Nishi, the team’s big free agent signing over the winter, had a brief, nightmarish outing in his first postseason start with the club. He allowed five straight hits in the bottom of the first, leaving after a ball hit by Toshiro Miyazaki struck him in the left leg. He allowed three runs without recording an out.

The win extended Hanshin’s success against the BayStars in 2019. The Tigers won the season series 16-8-1 and also went 8-4 in Yokohama Stadium.

Yokohama, meanwhile, has to turn that around and win twice in order to advance in the Climax Series. Hanshin can end it with a win in Game 2, which is set for 2 p.m. on Sunday in Yokohama. The Tigers will send Koyo Aoyagi to the mound to start the game against the BayStars’ Hatsuhiro Hamaguchi.

“To win two more games, we have to win tomorrow first,” Ramirez said. “And then the next game. You just gotta focus tomorrow and win tomorrow.”

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo had a three-run homer in the first inning and drove in four runs for the home team. Tatsuhiro Shibata had a pair of RBIs and Jose Lopez drove in a run.

The BayStars got off to a fast start in the first-ever Climax Series game at Yokohama Stadium, with Tsutsugo staking them to a 3-0 lead.

“I was able to really get all of a low breaking ball,” he said of his home run.

Tstsugo helped his team put up another crooked number in the fifth, making the score 4-1 with an RBI single. That was followed by an RBI single from Lopez and a two-run hit by Shibata later in the inning.

That put Yokohama ahead 7-1, before the Tigers came roaring back.

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