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Updated: October 29, 2018
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Compiled and Copyright © 1997-2018 by Marco Stoovelaar

(Story by Marco Stoovelaar; Photos by Henk Seppen)

Hiroshima defeats Van den Hurk after tie in Japan Series-opener

MINAMI-KU, HIROSHIMA (Japan) - Hiroshima Toyo Carp won 5-1 on Sunday (October 28) against reigning champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks to win the first game of the 69th Nippon Series, the championship series in Japanese professional baseball. The opening game on Saturday ended in a 2-2 tie after 12 innings.

The Series now moves to Fukuoka where the next three games in the best-of-seven will be played from Tuesday on.

On Sunday, Dutch pitcher Rick van den Hurk started for Fukuoka at Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima in the 5-1 loss. The righthander gave up all five runs and allowed eight basehits in the five innings he pitched. Kris Johnson started for the home team and allowed four hits, while striking out seven batters in seven innings.

Curaçao-born outfielder Wladimir Balentien reached the Play-Offs with Yokyo Yakult Swallows, but his team was eliminated.

(October 28)

The Japan Series is the final that follows the Climax Series, which is comprised of two rounds. In the First Stage, a best-of-three is played between the teams that finish in second and third place of the two leagues, the Central League and Pacific League. The two league-champions advanced to the best-of-six Final Stage to meet the winner of the First Stage.

...Wladimir Balentien with the Netherlands during...
...the 2013 World Baseball Classic in Japan...
(© Photo: Henk Seppen)
In the Central League, Tokyo Yakult Swallows (75-66-2) finished in second place and Yomiuri Giants (67-71-5) in third, while Hiroshima Toyo Carp (82-59-2) was the champion.

The Pacific League was won by Saitama Seibu Lions (88-53-2), followed by Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (82-60-1) and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (74-66-3).

In the First Stage of the Central League, Yomiuri swept Yakult in two games, winning 4-1 and 4-0 on October 13 and 14. In the first game, Wladimir Balentien played in leftfield for Yakult and was 0-for-3, but walked once. He also was the leftfielder in the second game, but again was 0-for-3.

In the regular season, Balentien batted .268 to finish in 23rd place of the batting list. He scored 72 runs and batted in 131. The 34-year old Balentien collected 138 basehits, including 38 homeruns. Balentien plays for Yakult since 2011. In 2013, he set a single-season record by hitting 60 homeruns, breaking the record of legendary Sadaharu Oh.

Thereafter, Yomiuri was swept in the Final Stage. The winner of the regular season begins this Series with a bonus-victory and will play all games at home. On October 17, 18 and 19, Hiroshima won 6-1, 4-1 and 5-1 to advance to the Japan Series.

In the First Stage of the Pacific League, Hiroshima won 2-1 against Nippon-Ham. In the opening game on October 13, Fukuoka won 8-3, but the next day, the team lost 4-2. On October 15, Fukuoka won 5-2 to move to the Final Stage.

League-champion Seibu opened the Final Stage with the bonus-victory, meaning it had to win three of the six games to advance to the Japan Series. However, Fukuoka won four games to reach the Final. It was the fifth time that Fukuoka won the Climax Series since this format was introduced in 2007. On October 17, Fukuoka opened with a 10-4 victory, but Seibu answered with a big 13-5 win the next day. Fukuoka then struck on the following three days, winning 15-4, 8-2 and 6-5 to win the Final Stage on October 21 and reach the Japan Series. Rick van den Hurk started the first game for Fukuoka and had a fine outing, striking out eight hitters in six innings. The righthander walked none, gave up seven basehits (including two homeruns) and was the winning pitcher.

...Rick van den Hurk with the Netherlands during...
...the 2017 World Baseball Classic in Japan...
(© Photo: Henk Seppen)
In the regular season, Van den Hurk was one of 28 pitchers who played for Fukuoka. He pitched in 23 games and was 10-7 with a 4.30 ERA. The 33-year old Van den Hurk struckout 127 batters and walked 61 in 138 innings. He gave up 113 basehits, including 21 homeruns. His ten victories were second best in the team behind Shuta Ishikawa (13-6) and Kodai Senga (13-7). Van den Hurk's 127 strikeouts were second best for Fukuoka behind Senga, who struckout 163 batters.

As mentioned, the opening game of the Japan Series ended in a tie. This means that the Series can be tied at 3-3 after seven games. In that case, an eighth game (or more when there is another tie) will be played. From the eighth game on, there is no inning-limit. It was the first time in a Japan Series that a game ended in a tie since November 6, 2010 when the game between Chiba Lotte Marines and Chunichi Dragons ended in a 2-2 score after fifteen innings. This year, the extra-inning rule for the Japan Series was changed from 15 to 12 innings to bring it in line with the rules during the regular season and Play-Offs.

In the opening game on Saturday, Hiroshima scored twice in the bottom of the first inning on a homerun by Ryosuke Kikuchi and a single by Ryuhei Matsuyama. Fukuoka came alongside in the fifth at bat thanks to a single by Cuban Alfredo Despaigne and an error. The game ended after 12 complete innings, which were played in fours hours and 38 minutes.

On Sunday, in Game 2, Hiroshima opened the score with one run in the first inning off of Rick van den Hurk. That run was scored on an infield-hit by Seiya Suzuki, who was 3-for-4 and batted in three runs. In the fifth inning, Suzuki delivered a 2-run single to make it a 5-0 score.

In the first, Kosuke Tanaka led off with a double, moved on a sacrifice bunt and scored on the single by Suzuki. In the third, Tanaka began with a single, then an error on a grounder by Ryosuke Kikuchi led to runners on second and third base. Tanaka then scored on a sacrifice fly in foul territory by Yoshihiro Maru that was caught by leftfielder Alfredo Despaigne. Hereafter, another run was added on a single by Ryuhei Matsuyama with two outs. Suzuki then lifted the lead to 5-0 with his single in the fifth inning.

Fukuoka scored its lone run in the seventh inning on a single by Nobuhiro Matsuda off of lefthander Kris Johnson, who struckout seven batters in seven innings and gave up only four basehits. Johnson briefly played in the Major League for Pittsburgh Pirates (2013) and Minnesota Twins (2014). He plays for Hiroshima since 2015. In 2012, Johnson and Van den Hurk were teammates when both played in the Minor League for Pittsburgh Pirates. Van den Hurk plays for Fukuoka since 2015 after having played in the previous two seasons in the professional league in South Korea. Before coming to Asia, the righthander pitched in the Major League for Florida Marlins (2007-2010), Baltimore Orioles (2010-2011) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2012).

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