FUKUOKA – Nobuhiro Matsuda, the lively and exuberant soul who plays third base for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, is often referred to as the team’s “mood-maker.”
You can remember the game is supposed to be fun as Matsuda hops around on one leg in the batter’s box, engages the fans with his guttural shouts of “atsuo!” after home runs and also in the earnest way he fields grounders during practice and shouts encouragement to his teammates.
So it’s no stretch to think after two wins to open this year’s Japan Series, the most recent aided by Matsuda’s tiebreaking three-run home run, that the mood around the team is as high as that of its joyful infielder.
“Hopefully that will lead to even more momentum,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said after Game 2.
Matsuda’s blast over the wall in center during the seventh inning of Game 2 was the first strike in what would be a 6-3 Hawks victory on Sunday at Yafuoku Dome. Now leading the series 2-0, SoftBank in a great position to capture a third straight title as the series shifts to Tokyo Dome for Game 3 on Tuesday.
“It was a really good game,” a delighted Kudo said after Game 2.
It’s been pitching early and offense late for SoftBank so far in the Japan Series. The Hawks have only allowed one run before the ninth inning in the first two games, while scoring 11 of their 13 runs in the sixth inning or later.
They’ve also been unbeatable in Japan Series games at home recently. The Hawks have won 14 straight home games in the Japanese Fall Classic since last losing in Game 6 in 2011.
“Our fans gave us a lot of encouragement here at home and we were able to win two straight,” Matsuda said. “Now we’ll go to Tokyo Dome.”
The Big Egg is where Yomiuri will hope to stage its counterattack, while SoftBank will be out to bring the series to a swift end with two wins.
The Giants’ biggest problem so far has been a lack of offense. All but one of the Kyojin’s five runs in the series have come in the ninth inning, when they were already trailing by a lot.
The Giants’ 1-4 batters are also a combined 3-for-27 (Okamoto has two of the hits) in the series.
Yomiuri didn’t even put a runner on base on Sunday until Hawks starter Rei Takahashi hit Akihiro Wakabayashi to start the sixth. The team didn’t register a hit until Kazuma Okamoto singled in the seventh.
Hawks starters Kodai Senga and Takahashi have limited Yomiuri to one run and five hits in their 14 innings.
Such could reasonably be excepted against Senga, but 23-year-old submarine right-hander Takahashi also had his way with a lineup that led the Central League in runs scored this year.
Afterward, the young hurler was pleased with his performance.
“I’m really happy I could to display these kinds of pitches with the submarine form on such a big stage,” Takahashi said.
The Hawks, meanwhile, are showing the other NPB teams what they can do when they get on a roll.
After losing Game 1 of the Pacific League Climax Series First Stage against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, SoftBank has reeled off eight straight wins.
The last six have come against the Pa League champion Seibu Lions — a four-game sweep of the games played on the field during the final stage of the climax series — and the Giants, the CL champions. The Hawks have flexed their muscles during this stretch, outscoring NPB’s two pennant winners 45-18.
It’s no wonder, then, that the mood on the team is sky high. If things go according to plan the rest of the way, the Hawks won’t lose that winning feeling anytime soon.
“We want to play the Hawks’ style of all-out baseball,” Matsuda said.