Osaka – When the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks were up to bat, the relative quiet of Kyocera Dome was broken up by a Hawks fan with a snare drum. The fan played during the top half of every inning, striking in slow, deliberate, rhythmic patterns before stopping so the crowd could repeat the pattern by clapping. Occasionally, the beats came at a more frenetic pace, leaving the crowd to dissolve into a mishmash of disorganized clapping with no hope of keeping up.
That’s what it’s like to face the Hawks in the Japan Series. One second, you think you’re on their wavelength. The next, they’ve left you hopelessly flailing behind and choking on a cloud of dust.
The relentless Hawks put six runs on the board before the end of the third inning, Alfredo Despaigne hit a grand slam in the seventh and the Pacific League champions cruised to an 13-2 rout of the Yomiuri Giants that left them two victories away from a fourth straight Japan Series title.
“It was huge for us to get off to a good start by scoring runs early,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said. Everybody set the table for their teammates and I think that led to the win.”
Yuki Yanagita, Yurisbel Gracial and Despaigne each drove in a run in the first inning. Takuya Kai hit a solo homer in the second and Gracial hit a two-run shot in the third. Just like that, it was 6-0 before the game was even an hour old.
Despaigne hit a sacrifice fly in the fifth and a soul-crushing grand slam off reliever Yohei Kagiya in the seventh.
SoftBank got two more runs on a throwing error by Giants pitcher Kan Otake in the ninth.
The offensive onslaught left the Hawks with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. They’ve also got all the momentum as they head home to Fukuoka, where Game 3 will take place on Tuesday.
SoftBank has won a record 10 straight Japan Series games since 2018. The Hawks have also won 14 straight Japan Series games at home since Game 7 in 2011.
“I think all the fans who came here gave us energy,” Kudo said. “Since we’re going back to Fukuoka, we want to play with a new mindset and hopefully win again in front of our fans.”
The last time a Pacific League team lost a Japan Series contest at home was when the Giants beat Masahiro Tanaka and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Game 6 in 2013.
SoftBank starter Shuta Ishikawa benefited from the run support in his first Japan Series start. Ishikawa, an 11-game winner during the regular season, allowed two runs on two hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked one.
“Our hitters gave me run support early and I didn’t want to waste their effort,” he said. “I tried to pitch with good tempo, which is one of my strengths, and it worked out well.”
Despaigne tied a Japan Series record with six RBIs in one game and his grand slam was the first in franchise history in the Japan Series.
Gracial, last season’s Series MVP, is off to a good start this year. After picking up a pair of hits in Game 1, he was 2-for-3 with a home run and a pair of RBIs in Game 2. Gracial as at least one hit in his last nine Japan Series games, which ties a record.
SoftBank’s Ryoya Kurihara said he didn’t know whether or not he’d be able to get a hit in Sunday’s game after going 3-for-3 with four RBIs in the opener. He ended up 4-for-5 and in the lead for MVP honors at this juncture.
Yomiuri entered this year’s Japan Series looking for revenge after being swept by SoftBank last season. After two games, though, they are in danger of being swept again.
The only thing the Kyojin have to hang their hats on so far is Zelous Wheeler, who hit a two-run home run in the fifth on Sunday. Wheeler drove in the team’s only run in Game 1 and saved another by throwing Kurihara out at the plate earlier in that game.
Giants starter Nobutaka Imamura, who was making his first Japan Series start, had a nightmare beginning. He struck out Ukyo Shuto to start the game and everything went downhill from there, as the lefty failed to make it out of the second. Imamura was charged with four runs in 1 2/3 innings.
The past two games may reignite the debate about whether or not to introduce the DH in the Central League.
The DH rule is in effect for every game of the Japan Series this year to protect the health of the players. In normal years, pitchers hit in games hosted by the CL team. But with no interleague schedule the year, none of the Pacific League pitchers had to bat or run bases this season.
With the DH rule in effect, the powerful Hawks could deploy all their offensive weapons — namely Despaigne — without taking a hit in the field or choosing which bat to leave on the bench for the first two games.
The Yomiuri starters, conversely, were dealt with an extra bat in the opposing lineup instead of facing a pitcher at least once or twice.
Of course, just about every spot in the Hawks lineup burned the Giants pitchers on Sunday.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.
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