The final stage of Japan’s two misnamed Climax Series opened for business on Wednesday at the league champions home parks. The unorthodox format for the Japan Series tournament’s quarterfinals and semifinals is a best-of-seven
Central League champion Yomiuri Giants and the Pacific League champion Seibu Lions entered the six-game series with a one-win advantage.
Hawks 8, Lions 4
At MetLife Dome, the Hawks caught most of the breaks and now are three wins shy of knocking off Seibu in the final stage for the second-straight year.
Lions starter Zach Neal fell victim in the first inning to a lucky roll, when a little chopper stayed fair for a one-out infield single. That was followed by two very good swings from Yuki Yanagita and Nobuhiro Matsuda that produced two runs off low changeups.
Neal, who hadn’t walked a batter since Aug. 27, saw that streak end in the sixth, when he put Alfredo Desapaigne on after facing 125 consecutive batters without issuing a walk. With two outs and the bases loaded, Neal kept the ball down to Seiichi Uchikawa, and the two-time batting champ rolled over a two-strike sinking fastball for an easy groundout as Neal left the field roaring and pounding his glove.
After the Lions scored four runs behind him, the right-hander surrendered a solo homer to Yurisbel Gracial to open the seventh and promptly left the game.
The Hawks turned the game on its head in the eighth, when Katsunori Hirai, pitching in his 82nd game of the year, allowed a pair of one-out singles. Kaima Taira took over, struck out Matsuda but lost pinch-hitter Yuya Hasegawa on a good high fastball that he flared into left for an RBI single, tying it 4-4. Taira’s worst pitch, perhaps, came next and cost Seibu the lead. Catcher Tomoya Mori tried to catch a low slider about to bounce, but it hit off his glove, allowing pinch-hitter Ukyo Shuto to score the go-ahead run on a harshly ruled passed ball.
Hawks lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, who has not been anything like the master craftsman he was in June, had little control or command and gave up a steady stream of fairly hard-hit balls.
But while the Lions’ pen opened the door a crack and surrendered three insurance runs in the ninth, the Hawks relievers allowed one run over five innings.
The game highlights are HERE.
Giants 5, Tigers 2
At Tokyo Dome, Yomiuri snapped Hanshin’s final-stage win streak at four, taking an early lead behind 15-game winner Shun Yamaguchi and holding on to take Game 1 and earning a 2-0 series lead.
The Tigers last reached the final stage in 2014, when they swept all four-games played to advance to the Japan Series and a five-game defeat at the hands of the Hawks.
Yoshihiro Maru and Kazuma Okamoto homered for the Giants in the first inning. Hayato Sakamoto made up for grounding into a first-inning double play ahead of Maru with a two-run second-inning single.
Game highlights are HERE.