CHIBA – Adeiny Hechavarria launched his bat high into the evening sky and looked into the Chiba Lotte Marines dugout as he began to celebrate.
There was no need to keep an eye on the ball he’d just obliterated, everyone knew where it was headed.
Hechavarria’s pinch-hit home run to left tied the game in the eighth, Toshiya Sato won it with a sayonara double in the ninth and the Marines took control of the first stage of the Pacific League Climax Series with a come-from-behind 5-4 win over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Game 1 on Saturday in Chiba.
The Marines lead the series 1-0.
There announced attendance was 14,904 at Zozo Marine Stadium, but it sounded like more as Marines fans reacted to the clutch hits from Hechavarria and Sato.
“I’m so happy,” Sato said. “I don’t even have the words to describe it.”
As the higher-seeded team, the second-place Marines would have had the upper hand in the series with a tie, which was secured with Hechavarria’s blast in the eighth, which tied the score at 4-4, and a 1-2-3 inning by closer Naoya Masuda, who earned the win in relief, in the ninth. Winning the opener means Lotte can advance to the final stage with either a victory or tie in Game 2.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular when I stepped in the batter’s box,” Hechavarria said. “I was thinking about putting a really good swing on it and I hit it.”
Hiromi Oka was hit by a pitch in the ninth and advanced to second on a bunt before scoring on Sato’s game-winning hit.
“I didn’t really have an aim, I was just trying to put a good swing on the ball,” Sato said.
Sato was also the final batter the last time these two teams met, striking out to end a 2-1 Rakuten win in Sendai that knocked the Marines out of the pennant race.
“I’m honestly just really happy,” he said. “I was the final batter in Miyagi, so this feeling is just extremely good.”
The win was the Marines’ first in the Climax Series since 2015. Lotte beat the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters 2-1 in the first stage that year before losing three straight against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in the final stage. The Marines lost two straight to the Hawks in the first stage in 2016 and dropped two straight against Softbank in last season’s final stage.
It didn’t look like the Marines were going to need any late heroics to snap that streak with the way Roki Sasaki pitched early in Game 1.
Sasaki, making his postseason debut, hit a personal best with a few 156 kph (99 mph) fastballs early in the day and finished with 10 strikeouts. He held the Eagles to an unearned run over six innings, allowing four hits and walking two, but did not factor into the decision.
Sasaki, who turned 20 on Nov. 3, became the second-youngest player to start a Climax Series contest.
He left the game in line for the win after a two-run single by Brandon Laird and a sacrifice fly from Hisanori Yasuda put the Marines ahead 3-1 in the third.
Shogo Nakamura contributed to the victory with three hits and a stolen base.
The Marines were hosting a Climax Series game for the first time since 2007 and will be looking to punch their ticket to next week’s final stage in Osaka in Game 2 on Sunday. Kazuya Ojima will try to close out the series for Lotte while Takayuki Kishi will be pitching to help keep Rakuten’s season alive.
Hiroaki Shimauchi drove in three runs for Rakuten, which opened the scoring on a throwing error by Sasaki in the second inning.
The Eagles finished with five hits, with Shimauchi and Takero Okajima each collecting two doubles and Tsuyoshi Yamasaki adding a single.
Rakuten starter Takahiro Norimoto pitched well against the Marines during the regular season, but made it through just four innings in Game 1. Norimoto was charged with three runs on six hits. He struck out three and walked two batters.
Shimauchi led off the second with a double before Sasaki retired Daichi Suzuki and struck out Eigoro Mogi. Shimauchi was running when Yoshiaki Watanabe hit an easy grounder back to the mound and scored after Sasaki made an errant throw to first.
The Marines went to work against Norimoto in the third with Takashi Ogino reaching on a one-out single and Leonys Martin drawing a walk. Nakamura then lined a ball into Norimoto and narrowly beat the pitcher’s throw to first to load the bases.
Laird made his teammates’ efforts pay off with a two-run single, and Yasuda made the score 3-1 with a sacrifice fly to left.
The Eagles put runners on first and second to start the seventh after Ryosuke Tatsumi drew a walk and Hikaru Ota reached on a throwing error by Marines pitcher Yuki Kuniyoshi.
Yamasaki attempted to bunt the runners over, but popped up his attempt. Kuniyoshi sprinted toward the plate and made a sliding catch for one out and completed the double play by jogging to second and touching the bag.
The Eagles weren’t done knocking on the door, however, drawing a pair of walks to load the bases, setting the stage for Shimauchi’s double off new reliever Yuki Karakawa that made the score 4-3.
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