2018 Japan Series
The 2018 Japan Series was the 69th match-up of the champions of the Central League and Pacific League, Japan's top two circuits. The Softbank Hawks won their 4th title in five years and the 6th in a row for the Pacific League's champs.
The Softbank Hawks, defending titlists from 2017 and winners of three of the past four Series, were only second in the PL in the regular season. They turned it up in the postseason by beating the Nippon Ham Fighters 2 games to 1 and upsetting the Seibu Lions 4 games to 1. Yuki Yanagita (.352/.431/.661, 95 R, 102 RBI, 36 HR, 21 SB) once again carried the offense; he led the PL in average. The pitchers were not nearly as sharp as the prior year, with Kodai Senga (13-7, 3.51) again the top stater but with an ERA .87 points higher and Yuito Mori (2-4, 37 Sv, 2.79) taking over as closer and leading the league in saves. Shinya Kayama was 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in relief. They were managed again by Kimiyasu Kudoh.
Hiroshima was the top team in the CL at 82-59-2 and cruised past the Yomiuri Giants with a sweep in the playoffs. Guided by Koichi Ogata, they made their second Series in three years. Seiya Suzuki (.320/.438/.618, 30 HR, 94 RBI) and Yoshihiro Maru (.306/.468/.467, 109 R, 130 BB, 97 RBI, 39 HR) provided plenty of punch from the outfield, Maru leading the CL in homers and walks. The staff was headlined by starters Daichi Osera (15-7, 2.62, the CL win leader) and Kris Johnson (11-5, 3.11) and relievers Geronimo Franzua (3-4, Sv, 1.66), Shota Nakazaki (4-2, 32 Sv, 2.71), Jay Jackson (32-2, Sv, 2.76) and Ryuji Ichioka (5-6, 2 Sv, 2.88).
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Carp: Ryosuke Kikuchi
Game 1 was for the bullpens as 15 pitchers were used in the first Japan Series tie since 2010 and the first Game 1 Series tie since 1986, also involving Hiroshima. Prior to this year, it took 15 innings for a Japan Series tie game, but that was shortened to the 12 innings used in the regular season. The Carp got going quickly. 2B Ryosuke Kikuchi, the second batter of the day for Hiroshima, went deep off Senga. CF Maru walked and scored after both RF Suzuki and 1B Ryuhei Matsuyama.
In the 5th, the Hawks battled back. LF Akira Nakamura and 1B Seiichi Uchikawa singled off Osera and came home on a two-out pinch-hit single from Alfredo Despaigne. In the 6th, the Carp staged a rally, getting Matsuyama to 3rd and LF Takayoshi Nona on first but Shota Takeda retired C Tsubasa Aizawa and whiffed 3B Tomohiro Abe.
In the 11th, backup 2B Keizo Kawashima led off with a single (his second after entering the game) for Softbank against Jackson. 3B Yurisbel Gracial bunted him over and CF Yanagita was intentionally walked. Nakamura flew out, sending Kawashima to third. Johnny Hellweg relieved Jackson and plunked Uchikawa to load the bags. Shuhei Fukuda pinch-hit for SS Tetsuro Nishida but flew out to end the inning.
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The home team won game 2 for a 1-0 Series lead. Johnson was excellent, allowing only four hits, one walk and one run in 7 innings, then relievers Franzua and Nakazaki each threw a hitless frame, each giving up one baserunner. Hiroshima again had a good first, this time against Dutch import Rick van den Hurk. SS Kosuke Tanaka led off with a double (past a diving Despaigne in left, making only his 5th appearance in the field all year as he was mostly a DH but this game was played under CL rules without a DH), was bunted over by Kikuchi, then scored on a two-out infield single by Suzuki. In the 3rd, Tanaka again connected for a hit and Kikuchi hit into an error by his counterpart, Kawashima. Maru's sacrifice fly made it 2-0 and Matsuyama singled to left to score Kikuchi.
Softbank got their first runner in the 4th when Kawashima singled and SS Kenta Imamiya walked but Johnson retired the next 10 batters to give 19 of the first 21. In the 5th, Kikuchi singled with one out and Maru doubled. Suzuki singled them both in. He would finish with 3 hits and 3 RBI while Tanaka had 3 hits and 2 runs.
The Hawks got their only run in the 7th when Yanagita and Despaigne hit back-to-back singles with one out and 3B Nobuhiro Matsuda rapped a two-out single. Through two games, the team had no extra-base hits.
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The Hawks evened the Series at 1-1-1. Aren Kuri of the Carp and the Hawks' Ariel Miranda pitched 3 shutout innings apiece to start things but it turned into a high-scoring affair after that. In the bottom of the 4th, Kuri walked Yanagita and Despaigne with one out. Nakamura singled in Yanagita, then with two outs, Imamiya singled in Despaigne. In the 5th, Hiroshima made it a one-run game when Abe took Miranda deep. RF Seiji Uebayashi got on to open the bottom of the 5th and was bunted over. Gracial singled and Yanagita into a run-scoring error. Hellweg relieved Kuri and allowed a run-scoring grounder to Despaigne to make it 4-1.
The Carp again came within a run, in the top of the 6th. Suzuki led off with a homer, then Matsuyama singled. That chased Miranda in favor of Rei Takahashi. He allowed a one-out single to LF Takayoshi Noma and C Tsubasa Aizawa drove in Matsuyama to close it to 4-3. The Hawks punched right back. Against Akitake Okada, 2B Kenji Akashi, Gracial and Yanagita all hit two-out singles to make it 5-3. Despaigne followed with a shot to right to make it 8-3. Backup C Hiroaki Takaya homered off Ren Nakata in the 7th and things looked pretty well sealed up for the home team, 9-3.
Hiroshima didn't give up, though. Suzuki homered for the second time today, this time off Ren Kajiya to open the 8th. Uebayashi came up big with a catch to rob Matsuyama, but backup 1B Xavier Batista singled, Noma drew a walk and Aizawa singled. #9 hitter Abe then hit a grand slam for his second home run of the day, making it 9-8. Kayama relieved and got the next two outs. In the 9th, Hiroshima threatened again against closer Mori. Suzuki singled with one out to put the potential tying run aboard. With two outs, Batista singled again, putting the potential go-ahead run on. Mori got Noma on a grounder to Nakamura (who finished the game at 1B) to escape the jam.
Suzuki and Aizawa each finished with 3 hits in a losing cause, while Suzuki and Abe each homered twice and Abe drove in five. Maru became the 6th player to fan four times in a Series game, falling to 1-for-12 on the Series.
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Carp: Seiya Suzuki (3)
The Carp seemed to start quickly against Nao Higashihama. With one out in the first, Kikuchi singled. The slumping Maru doubled and Kikuchi almost scored, but a fine defensive play of CF Yanagita to 2B Akashi to C Takuya Kai nailed him at home; after that, Higashihama only allowed two more hits before leaving after five.
In the bottom of the 3rd, the Hawks got all they needed. Yusuke Nomura had retired the first eight batters but Kai singled, then Uebayashi homered to right to make it 2-0. Suzuki remained hot with his third homer in two games, taking Higashihama deep in the 4th but again it was in a losing cause. Despaigne countered with a homer in the bottom of the 4th.
The Hawks got their last runs in the 6th, against Takeru Imamura. After Yanagita got aboard and Despaigne fanned, Nakamura singled to put men on the corners. PH Yuya Hasegawa singled through the middle, scoring Yanagita with the last run. Softbank had now won 11 straight Japan Series home games.
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Carp: Tsubasa Aizawa
The Hawks moved within one game of their 5th title this decade by winning their 12th straight Series game at home; like Game 3, through, it was a close affair. Hiroshima got on the board in the second against Senga when Matsuyama led off with a double and Aizawa singled him in with two outs. In the 4th, the Hawks took the lead against Osera. Akashi walked, Gracial singled, Yanagita drew a full-count walk and Nakamura delivered a two-run single.
Hiroshima retook the lead in the top of the 5th, when Kosuke Tanaka doubled and Maru socked a one-out homer off reliever Liván Moinelo to make it 3-2. The Hawks came right back in the bottom of the inning. Kai singled, then Uebayashi singled, with video replay needed after it was challenged by the Carp. Akashi bunted the men over, then Hellweg relieved Osera. Hellweg plunked Gracial, then Yanagita grounded back to the mound, but Hellweg went to first for the out, letting Kai score. In the 6th, Aizawa homered off Takeda and Hiroshima led once again, 4-3. Takahashi, Mori and Kajiya held the Carp to one hit in the last three innings, though, and kept them off the board, Kajiya avenging his game 3 disaster by getting the win.
Meanwhile, the home team rallied. Light-hitting Akashi, who only had one hit one home run all season and had a career high of three in 13 seasons, took Franzua yard in the 7th to tie it up. Manager Kudoh said "He was saying it was a miracle, but it was his never-say-die attitude that led to the home run." In the top of the 10th, Suzuki was intentionally walked by Kajiya, then PH Kaisei Sone bunted Suzuki over. Batista struck out and Abe grounded out. In the bottom of the inning, Nakazaki served up a 2nd-pitch homer to Yanagita, as the Hiroshima native victimized his hometown team.
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Hawks: Yurisbel Gracial
For the first time this Series, the home team lost, as the Hawks took their 4th straight game to lock up their 4th title in five years. Hiroshima went to their only pitcher to win a game this Series, Johnson, and he was again matched up with another former Pittsburgh Pirate, van den Hurk. They had a fine pitching duel, as the teams combined for only 7 hits and 2 runs. Hiroshima's best shot came in the 2nd when Suzuki led off with a hit and Matsuyama walked but van den Hurk prevented their scoring, with Kai gunning down a runner stealing.
In the 4th, Yanagita drew a leadoff walk from Johnson and Nakamura singled. Uchikawa bunted the runners over and a squeeze bunt by Nishida made it 1-0. Gracial homered to left in the 5th for the game's only other run, ruining a great day for Hiroshima's pitching. Van den Hurk was even better, striking out 10 and walking one in six innings before Takeda, Kayama and Mori pitched the final three innings without allowing a hit and giving up just one walk.
Kai won the Series MVP despite hitting .143 without a RBI as he set a Series record by catching all six runners stealing, neutralizing the speedy Carp offense. He was the first position player to win Series MVP without a RBI.
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