(Story by Marco Stoovelaar; Photos by Henk Seppen)
Fukuoka Hawks one win away from Japan Series-title
CHŪŌ-KU, FUKUOKA / BUNKYŌ, TOKYO (Japan) -
Defending champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks opened the 70th Japan Series in the weekend with two victories against Yomiuri Giants.
Playing at home in Fukuoka Yahuoku! Dome, Fukuoka won 7-2 on Saturday (October 19), then 6-3 on Sunday (October 20).
On Tuesday-evening (October 22), Fukuoka won 6-2 to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven.
In this game, Dutch pitcher Rick van den Hurk was the starting pitcher for Fukuoka.
With today's win, Fukuoka is one win away from winning the Japan Series again.
The team also won the title in the last two years.
In the regular season, Fukuoka finished in second place in the Pacific League behind Saitama Seibu Lions.
As league-leader, Saitama secured a spot in the Final Stage of the Climax Series, while Fukuoka met third placed Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in a best-of-three in the First Stage.
By finishing in second place, Fukuoka earned home field advantage against the team from Sendai.
In the opener, on October 5, Fukuoka lost 5-3.
In this game, Hideko Asamura hit two homeruns for Golden Eagles.
In the next two days, Fukuoka won, 6-4 and 2-1.
In Game 2, Rick van den Hurk started for Fukuoka, which trailed in both the first and third inning.
Fukuoka came alongside both times, then Cuban Alfredo Despaigne hit a 2-run homerun to give his team a 4-2 lead.
In the top of the fourth, Van den Hurk was relieved with two outs by Shinya Kayama, but he walked two batters, who both scored to tie the score.
Again, Fukuoka came back, as Shuhei Fukuda homered in the bottom of the fourth to make it a 5-4 score.
An insurance run was added in the fifth on a single by Despaigne.
In the third game, Fukuoka broke an 1-1 score in the seventh inning when Seiichi Uchikawa hit a homerun.
In the Final Stage, Fukuoka began with an 1-0 deficit, as the League-champion is given an one-game advantage.
However, Fukuoka won four consecutive games at MetLife Dome with the first played on October 9.
The fourth game had to be postponed one day due to Typhoon Hagibis.
Fukuoka won 8-5, 8-6, 7-0 and 9-3.
Yomiuri Giants won the title in the Central League to advance to the Final Stage.
In the First Stage, second placed Yokohama DeNA Baystars played a best-of-three against third placed Hanshin Tigers, starting on October 5.
At Yokohama Stadium, Hanshin opened with an 8-7 win, then lost 6-4, but won the third game, 2-1.
In the first game, Hanshin trailed 7-1 after five innings, but then scored four runs in the seventh (3-run homerun by Fumiya Hojo) and three in the eighth.
In Game 2, Yokohama broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the ninth when Tomo Otosaka hit a 2-run walk-off (or sayonara) homerun.
In the third game, Hanshin broke an 1-1 tie in the eighth inning.
Shun Takayama was hit by a pitch, then his pinch-runner Kai Ueda stole second base, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly.
In the Final Stage, leading 1-0 thanks to the bonus-win, Yomiuri needed three wins to advance to the Japan Series.
The team opened on October 9 with a 5-2 win, then also won the second game, 6-0.
After losing Game 3 with a 7-6 score, the next game was postponed due to Typhoon Hagibis.
On October 13, Yomiuri then won 4-1 to win the Series.