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Updated: October 22, 2019
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(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.

(October 22)

...Yurisbel Gracial hitting for Cuba during the...
...2017 World Baseball Classic...
(© Photo: Henk Seppen)
Game 1

In Game 1 on Saturday, it was Yomiuri Giants that opened the score in the top of the second inning when veteran Shinnosuke Abe homered off of starting pitcher Kodai Senga. Hereafter, the righthander threw a great game for the defending champion and added six scoreless innings, retiring eleven batters in a row. It was the third year in a row that Senga started the Japan Series-opener. In 2017, Senga was a pitching ace for Japan during the World Baseball Classic.

Fukuoka answered with two runs in the bottom of the second off of starter Shun Yamaguchi. In this at bat, Cuban Yurisbel Gracial hit a 2-run homerun.

In the sixth inning, Fukuoka added a run on a sacrifice fly by Akira Nakamura.

In the seventh inning, Senga ran into some problems, as he got runnners on second and third base with two outs. In the inning, second baseman Taisei Makihara made a great diving catch on a line drive and Senga closed with a strikeout.

Moments later, in the bottom of the seventh, Fukuoka took more distance by rallying for four runs. The runs were scored on a 2-run single by Taisei Makihara, a runscoring single by Yuki Yanagita and a grounder by Shuhei Fukuda.

In the ninth inning, Yomiuri scored its third run on a homerun by Takumi Ohshiro.

...Nobuhiro Matsuda celebrates hitting a homerun...
...during the 2013 World Baseball Classic...
(© Photo: Henk Seppen)
Game 2

The second game was a pitching-duel and remained scoreless for six innings, nine runs were then scored in the final three.

Fukuoka-starter Rei Takahashi allowed his first basehit in the seventh inning. Submarine-pitcher Takahashi retired the first 15 batters he faced. He then hit lead-off hitter Akihiro Wakabayashi in the sixth inning, but held his No-Hitter intact. With two outs in the seventh inning, Takahashi gave up his first basehit, a single by Kazuma Okamoto.

C.C. Mercedes, who started for Yomiuri, gave up only one basehit in six innings. He retired the first 14 batters of Fukuoka and then gave up a 2-out single to Nobuhiro Matsuda in the fifth.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Fukuoka scored three runs. Reliever Kan Otake then got two baserunners, one on an error, the other on a single by Yurisbel Gracial. Hereafter, Nobuhiro Matsuda hit a homerun.

In the next at bat, Fukuoka again scored three runs. This time via a solo-homerun by Yuki Yanagita and a 2-run homerun by Shuhei Fukuda.

After being held scoreless in eight innings and now trailing 6-0, Yomiuri scored its three runs in the top of the ninth inning. With one out, reliever Jumpei Takahashi walked three batters. With the bases loaded, closer Yuito Mori was inserted, but gave up a 2-run single to Kazuma Okamoto, who himself was eliminated. A single by Shinnosuke Abe accounted for the third run.

With this win, Fukuoka now has won fourteen consecutive games at home during a Japan Series.

...Rick van den Hurk pitching for the Netherlands...
...during the 2017 World Baseball Classic...
(© Photo: Henk Seppen)
Game 3

Playing at home in the famous Tokyo Dome (nicknamed 'Big Egg'), Yomiuri Giants opened the score in the first inning when Yoshikyuki Kamei homered off of starter Rick van den Hurk. The Dutch righthander pitched four innings, struckout six batters, walked two and left with Fukuoka leading 6-2. However, as he didn't throw the required five innings, he was not credited with the win.

Fukuoka immediately came alongside in the top of the second inning when Yurisbel Gracial also homered off starter Yuri Takahashi.

The defending champion took the lead in the third inning thanks to another Cuban player, as Alfredo Despaigne delivered a runscoring single.

Yomiuri came alongside in its third at bat when Kamei homered again.

Fukuoka then broke the 2-2 tie with a 4-run rally in the top of the fourth. The team re-took the lead on a sacrifice fly by Yuya Hasegawa, while another run was scored on a basesloaded walk for Yuki Yanagita. This time, Despaigne contributed with a 2-run single.

In the bottom of the fourth, Van den Hurk ran in some problems, as Yomiuri got the bases loaded with two outs. But the Orange-pitcher then struckout Shinnosuke Shigenobu to end the threat.

Shuta Ishikawa, Hiroshi Kaino, Livan Moinelo and Yuito Mori then successfully closed the game for Fukuoka. They allowed only two more basehits.

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