Ryoya Kurihara introduced himself in a big way to the Japan Series on Saturday with a homer, two doubles, and four RBIs in Game 1. And that was just his first three at-bats. Kurihara’s offensive explosion carried SoftBank Hawks ace Kodai Senga to a 5-1 win.
The 24-year-old SoftBank Hawks outfielder, who entered the season with 57 plate appearances, became a regular slammed a two-run homer off Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano in the second, doubled and was thrown out at the plate in the fourth, and belted a two-run double in the sixth.
Senga delivered a prototypical outing. His fastball hummed and often jumped, while his split and slider were unpredictable. The Giants hitters did a good job of fouling off the fastball and laying off his secondary pitches.
Hiroyuki Nakajima and Naoki Nishikawa both hammered splitters that failed to tumble and drove them to the wall in the fifth inning but both balls were caught.
Sugano was also pretty close to his season norms as he tried to stay just out of the strike zone and get people to chase, and did get some weak swings on the corners but also fell behind hitters, and gave up his share of hard-hit balls.
The Giants went to rookie Shosei Togo in the seventh, while Senga stayed in to work the home half as his pitch count crossed the 100-mark.
Hawks leadoff man Ukyo Shuto made it 5-0 in the eighth, by drawing a walk off lefty Yuki Takahashi, stealing second and scoring on an Akira Nakamura single.
The Hawks entered the series with the longest postseason winning streak in NPB history, 12 games dating back to Game 2 of the 2019 PL Climax Series first stage. They also set an NPB record by winning their ninth straight series game, dating back to Game 3 of the 2018 series.
The Giants entered having lost five straight series games, their last win coming against Masahiro Tanaka in Game 6 of the 2013 series, his final start in Japan, although he came in to save Game 7.
Livan Moinelo dazzled the Giants with his fastball and curve, striking out three in the eighth before closer Yuito Mori did his usual thing, loading the bases and allowing a run before closing it out.
The game’s attendance of 16,489 — restricted due to the novel coronavirus pandemic — was the series first under 20,000 since Game 8 of the 1986 affair, when 16,828 attended a Monday afternoon game when the teams finished the first seven games tied 3-3-1.
In the kind of snit Yomiuri is famous for, its TV network cut away the game’s only live broadcast for commercials instead of airing Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo’s postgame interview. This is reminiscent of the Yomiuri Shimbun’s coverage of Game 6 of the 1996 series.
That year, every newspaper in Japan had a front page photo of Ichiro Suzuki and the Orix BlueWave celebrating their Japan Series championship, except Japan’s top financial paper, the Nikkei Shimbun and the Yomiuri, whose team lost.