Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Hawks victorious in see-saw opening clash with Lions

Kyodo

Five relievers combined to allow a run over five innings and Nobuhiro Matsuda drove in four runs as the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks won Game 1 of the Pacific League Climax Series’ final stage 8-4 over the Saitama Seibu Lions on Wednesday.

The win evened the stage at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo between the two-time defending PL champion Lions and the Hawks. As league champs, the Lions entered the six-game set with a one-win lead.

The visitors took the lead for good in a two-run eighth inning. Pinch-hitter Yuya Hasegawa singled in the tying run with two outs, and pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto put SoftBank in front by scoring on a passed ball.

Matsuda, who doubled in two runs in the first off Lions starter Zach Neal, singled in two more in SoftBank’s three-run ninth.

“I had a chance to drive in runs in the first, so I just wanted to concentrate and give it all I had there,” Matsuda said of his first-inning hit. “It turned out well.”

“It’s a short knockout series, so you want to win quickly and keep winning.”

Neal allowed three runs over six-plus innings. However, the right-hander left with a 4-3 lead after allowing Yurisbel Gracial’s leadoff home run in the seventh.

The Lions came from two runs down in a three-run third inning against former Chicago Cub Tsuyoshi Wada, who was missing his trademark command and control. After a one-out walk and a single, Takeya Nakamura singled in a run, and Shuta Tonosaki tripled in two more to put the league champs in front.

PL home run champion Hotaka Yamakawa doubled home Tonosaki in the sixth off reliever Jumpei Takahashi, but Hawks rookie Hiroshi Kaino pitched out of a one-out, two-on jam in the bottom of the seventh, setting the stage for SoftBank’s comeback.

With one out in the seventh, Yuki Yanagita reached on an infield single against the Lions chief middle reliever, Katsunori Hirai. Shuto came on to run after Alfredo Despaigne’s single put runners on the corners to chase Hirai.

Matsuda struck out on three pitches against right-hander Kaima Taira to bring the Lions’ home park to its feet. Hasegawa got under a high fastball only for his flare to fall in and plate Yanagita. On the next pitch, catcher Tomoya Mori failed to corral a bad pitch, and Shuto scored when it bounced away.

Hawks lefty Livan Moinelo worked a scoreless eighth, and closer Yuito Mori retired Seibu to wrap it up.