And it’s on to the final stages in each league as the PL’s third-place club, the Rakuten Eagles, and the CL’s second-place DeNA BayStars seeing their seasons end.
Each league’s Climax Series final stage starts on Wednesday in the Kanto area at the home of the league champs, the CL’s Yomiuri Giants and the PL’s Seibu Lions, who enter the ostensibly best-of-seven, six-game series with a one-win advantage. For the second-straight day, both playoff games finished with the same score.
Tigers 2, BayStars 1
At Yokohama Stadium, Hanshin advanced to the final stage for the first time since 2014, when their 39-year-old closer Kyuji Fujikawa recorded a two-out save in a steady rain to end the season for manager Alex Ramirez’s DeNA BayStars.
For the second time in the series, the Tigers scored the winning run off lefty reliever Edwin Escobar again, although it was a tougher slog then in Game 1, when Escobar said, “that wasn’t me on the mound.”
—Here’s my chat with Escobar prior to Game 3.
With the game tied 1-1 in the eighth, a hit batsman, a stolen base by pinch-runner Kai Ueda, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly put Hanshin in front after former closer Rafael Dolis pitched out of a one-out, bases-loaded pickle in the seventh.
“I’d decided I was going to take off on the first pitch,” Ueda said. “I was out yesterday (trying to steal), but you want to get them back after they get you.”
Thirty-nine-year-old Kyuji Fujikawa, who in the second half has been reprising his role as Hanshin closer he held down pre-Tommy John and MLB from 2007 to 2012, retired the BayStars in order in the eighth. Pitching more than an inning for the second time this season, Fujikawa struck out captain Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, walked cleanup hitter and former Mariner Jose Lopez, before getting an infield fly.
After asking the ground crew to repair the mound due to the rain, Fujikawa faced Sunday’s sayonara hero, Tomo Otosaka, who was unable to replicate his two-run pinch-hit homer that won Game 2, tapping back to the mound.
Here’s my recent interview with Fujikawa for Kyodo News.
The two-inning save was the seventh of Fujikawa’s career and his first since Sept. 7, 2010.
“It was a very good game, all the way to the end We tried our best all the way with our best guys out there. Nothing to be ashamed of,” manager Ramirez said.
“We like to thank the fans for all their support. It couldn’t have been better. We did our best and they did their best. It was like a family. From now it’s only going to get better.”
The Tigers now head to Tokyo Dome, where they swept the league champion Giants in the 2014 final stage to advance to the Japan Series.
The game highlights are HERE.
Hawks 2, Eagles 1
At Yafuoku Dome, Seiichi Uchikawa drove in both runs for SoftBank in its first-stage-clinching victory over Rakuten, whose run came on Hideto Asamura’s fourth home run of the three-game series.
Uchikawa, one of only two players to lead both of Japan’s leagues in batting average and the first player in his prime to move from the Central League to the Pacific, further cemented his legacy as the key player in the Hawks’ second dynasty in Fukuoka.
The 37-year-old tied it 1-1 when he followed two-out singles from Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial with one of his own. He led off the seventh with a homer off Sung Chia-hao.
Side-armer Rei Takahashi got the win after allowing a run on four hits, two walks, and a hit batsman through 5-1/3 innings. With one out and two on in the sixth, reliever Jumpei Takahashi got Jabari Blash to ground into a double play to keep the game tied.
The next stop for the Hawks will be MetLIfe Dome. The Hawks are aiming to win three-straight Japan Series for the first time in franchise history. The Hawks won back-to-back series in 2014 and 2015 in addition to their past two years.
The game highlights are HERE.
Ramirez to stay, Tsutsugo ‘tsu go’
The last two years, there have been reports about the future of manager Alex Ramirez’s tenure as skipper of the Central League’s DeNA BayStars, but according to various reports, the team has decided to extend the former big leaguer’s stay in Yokohama after the franchise’s second-place finish. The club hadn’t finished that high since its 1998 CL and Japan Series championship.
Next season will be Ramirez’s fifth with the club, although a Japanese citizen, he is
The team’s chief executive also said that left fielder and team captain Yoshitomo Tsutsugo will be allowed to move to a major league club via the posting system.
There’s a brief look at Tsutsugo on my “Guess who’s coming to dinner” page.
“We’ve spoken at length about it (after the end of the regular season), and I’d like to let him realize the dream he’s held since he was little,” said Kazuaki Mihara, the club’s official representative to NPB.
Fighters skipper Kuriyama agrees to 1-year extension
Hideki Kuriyama, who reportedly told the Nippon Ham Fighters he’d like to step down after finishing below .500 for the second time in three years and watching his club collapse after pulling within a half-game of the Pacific League lead, has agreed to a one-year extension through next season.
The 58-year former outfielder, TV analyst and university lecturer, won the PL pennant in 2012, his rookie managing year, and captured the league and Japan Series championships in 2016 — when Shohei Ohtani was named the PL’s MVP, Best Pitcher, and Best Designated Hitter. Kuriyama has said it was his idea to offer Ohtani a chance to both hit and pitch as a pro.
This season, he adopted the use of a “short starter” a pitcher who would go through the opposing lineup either once or twice, and also experimented with various shifts, most noticeably against Orix Buffaloes left-handed slugger Masataka Yoshida. In the second half, he further experimented with an opener, using reliever Mizuki Hori successfully in that role.
When a team source revealed Kuriyama had informed the team he wished to step down, the same source said the team did not consider the team’s poor results a reflection of his managing effort.
The Fighters went into the season with most of their foreign-player capital invested in pitchers, but the quartet of Nick Martinez, Bryan Rodriguez, Johnny Barbato, and Justin Hancock pitched a total of 130-1/3 innings.
Giants meet with high school star Sasaki
Officials of the Yomiuri Giants spent 30 minutes on Monday meeting with hard-throwing right-hander Roki Sasaki, laying out their development plans as they try to encourage the youngster to sign away the next nine-plus years of his baseball life to a club that will not allow him to move to the major leagues.