The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks should be able to taste it now. They’ve dominated this Japan Series through three games and now the big payoff is just around the corner.
Alfredo Despaigne drove in three runs, Yurisbel Gracial homered and Rick van den Hurk did his job on the mound as the Hawks moved within one win of a three-peat with a 6-2 win over the Yomiuri Giants in Game 3 of the Japan Series on Tuesday night at Tokyo Dome.
“We’ve come to this point, but we’ve always tried to win by giving everything we can in each game we play,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said. “So we’ll forget that we won today and give everything we have tomorrow.”
The Hawks lead the series 3-0 and will celebrate their fifth title in six years with one more victory. They’ll go for the sweep in Game 4 on Wednesday at the Big Egg.
Veteran Tsuyoshi Wada will start for SoftBank while Yomiuri star Tomoyuki Sugano will make his first appearance of the series.
“Tomorrow, we’re going to do the same thing and just focus and don’t give any at-bats away,” Van den Hurk said. “Keep executing pitches, from the pitcher’s standpoint, and keep grinding 100 percent until the end. We’ll see where we end up.”
For the Giants, Game 4 will be all about staying alive to see another day. The Kyojin can at least take solace that what they’re trying to do isn’t unprecedented. Though the last time a team rallied from 3-0 down was back in 1989, when Yomiuri took the title away from the Kintetsu Buffaloes.
That, however, would require cooling off a red-hot Hawks team that has won nine straight since opening the postseason with a loss against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
“We failed to win the pennant and I think the players’ frustration from that has helped us in every game we’ve played,” Kudo said.
Not even home runs in consecutive at-bats by Yomiuri leadoff man Yoshiyuki Kamei was enough to slow SoftBank’s march on Tuesday.
Gracial hit his second home run of the series in the top of the second. He now has four hits, two of them home runs, and three RBIs in the series.
Despaigne finished 2-for-3 with an RBI single in the third and a two-run hit in the fourth.
“They were singles, not the home runs he’s so good at,” Kudo said. “I think all of our players try to set the table for each other and that’s shown in the walks and RBI hits.”
The fourth inning also featured a tiebreaking sacrifice fly by Yuya Hasegawa and a bases-loaded walk drawn by Yuki Yanagita.
Van den Hurk pitched four innings and allowed a pair of runs. He said watching the first two games gave him information that helped him in his own start.
“Playoff games are different,” he said. “These types of games are different from regular-season games. You just pay attention, see what they do, see how our pitchers attack them and pick something from that.
“But they’re watching as well. So it’s like back and forth, you’re playing chess. You just continue to try to be a step ahead and we’ve been doing that.”
Accordingly, he threw more curveballs and off-speed pitches than he usually does, in part because of what he and the coaches had seen.
“Just kind of going off what we read about what the hitters were doing,” he said. “I was calling for a little bit more off-speed. I felt they were dead red on the fastball. So that was necessary for the game plan.
Van den Hurk gave up both runs he allowed on solo home runs by Kamei in the first and third innings.
“I felt like I had good stuff today,” Van den Hurk said. “I was just gonna go attack, especially in that first at-bat. I felt like I made a good pitch and he put a great swing on it. He’s a veteran hitter and I think that also made us more aware that maybe they were gonna be on the fastball more.”
Van den Hurk ran into trouble in the fourth, when the Giants loaded the bases with two outs. He struck out Shinnosuke Shigenobu to end the threat.
Relievers Shuta Ishikawa (the winning pitcher), Hiroshi Kaino, Livan Moinelo and closer Yuito Mori limited the Giants to two hits and walked one batter the rest of the way.
The Hawks have allowed just seven runs in the series.
“I think we’re pitching them really well,” Van den Hurk said. “I think we’re adjusting as well during the at-bats and in between the games, even in between innings.
“They have a good lineup and we’re aware of that. You have to make sure you try to be a step ahead all the time. I think we’ve done that and I think that’s a big reason why we’re up 3-0.”
Kamei’s two home runs were all the offense the Giants could muster. He became the 12th player to hit a leadoff home run in the first inning of a Japan Series game.
The Kyojin finished with just five hits and struck out 13 times.
Nineteen-year-old pitcher Shosei Togo, making the fourth start of his career, was charged with the loss after a disastrous fourth inning in which all nine SoftBank batters came to the plate.
Togo struck out Nobuhiro Matsuda to start the inning then allowed a hit and a walk. He then committed a throwing error on a bunt attempt by Van den Hurk that loaded the bases.
Hasegawa then broke a 2-2 tie with his sacrifice fly, Kenta Imamiya singled to reload the bases and Yanagita walked to bring in another run. Despaigne then made 6-2 with a single that scored two run.
All of the runs Togo allowed were unearned.
Now SoftBank is in position to end the series in just four games.
The last Japan Series sweep happened in 2005, when the Chiba Lotte Marines wiped out the Hanshin Tigers in four games. The Giants were last swept in 1990 by the Seibu Lions.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5