The SoftBank Hawks took a 14-game home winning streak in Japan Series games into Tuesday’s Game 3 against the Yomiuri Giants and extended it 15 with a 4-0 combined one-hit victory.
The Hawks have now won 11 straight series games after starting the 2018 series against the Hiroshima Carp 0-1-1. The Giants have lost eight straight, one shy of the series record nine straight they lost from 1958 to 1961,
Akira Nakamura, whose eight career Climax Series home runs tie him with a bunch of real home run hitters, hit Angel Sanchez’s worst pitch of the game through three innings, opening the scoring with a two-run, two-out, third-inning home run.
Nakamura, made it 3-0 in the seventh with an RBI single off reliever Yuhei Takahashi, who hit the first batter he faced and was charged with a run when Kan Otake surrendered an RBI single to Yurisbel Gracial.
That was enough for Matt Moore who pitched well and somehow managed to not surrender a hit through seven scoreless innings in which two runners walked and two reached on errors.
For the first time in the series, a Giants starting pitcher came out very sharp. Sanchez hit his spots, expanded the zone away to right handers with his cutter and threw some superb splitters and for the most part kept the Hawks from barreling up his mistakes. He survived a hard-hit first-inning single from Yuki Yanagita but an infield single and a hanging splitter to Nakamura gave away the lead.
Moore was not quite as crisp and seemed to have some trouble getting low strikes called, but he was helped out by some good fielding from his teammates — despite an ugly attempted rundown in the first inning. A big play at third base by Nobuhiro Matsuda turned a hard-hit ball into a force at second after Moore walked the leadoff man in the fifth.
Moore looked vulnerable in the sixth, after his own error allowed the leadoff runner to reach. He fell behind and two fastballs down the middle were hit to center field. Hayato Sakamoto, who’d barely failed to get all of a fat fastball in the fourth came to the plate.
After a meeting on the mound to make sure everyone was on the same page, the lefty unleashed his best fastballs of the game to start off Sakamoto before striking him out with offspeed pitches.
The Hawks held Sanchez’s feet to the fire sixth, when Nakamura, back in his groove after an uncharacteristically undisciplined first at-bat, drew a leadoff walk. Giants manager Tatsunori Hara issued an intentional walk to set up a double play against the hardest team to double up in Japanese baseball history, but got out of it when second baseman Naoki Yoshikawa speared a grounder headed for right and one or more runs.
The Hawks knocked Sanchez out in the seventh. With a single and a sacrifice and three lefties coming to the plate, the Giants went to lefty Yuhei Takanashi and things went downhill. Takanashi hit a batter, gave up Nakamura’s single. With one out, Kan Otake faced Yurisbel Gracial and gave up a single before the Giants finally got out of the inning.
Livan Moinelo opened with a strikeout and then worked around a one-out walk and a hit batsman by striking out two more. Yuito Mori allowed Yoshihiro Maru’s two-out single up the middle to keep the Giants from joining the 2007 Nippon Ham Fighters as the only Japan Series no-hit victims.
Wednesday’s Game 4 will put Tsuyoshi Wada in position to win his second straight Series clinching game. Wada, however, is the last Hawks pitcher to lose at home in the series, having dropped Game 6 in 2011 before he went to the majors and went through Tommy John surgery.
The Giants, who for some reason put their second best starter this season, Shosei Togo, in the bullpen, will start right-hander Seishu Hatake on Wednesday.
Game 3 starting pitcher profiles:
A pair of 30-something first-year imports get the starting assignments. The Hawks go with lefty Matt Moore, who suffered a hamstring injury early in the season that limited him to 78 innings.
Threw his fastball 61.3 percent of the time, the second highest figure for any pitcher with 70-plus innings behind the Hanshin Tigers’ Shintaro Fujinami. Moore also throws his changeup and–like every Hawks pitcher–a curve of some sort. Moore’s curve averaged 127.7 kph this year according to Delta Graphs, that’s third fastest this season behind Sanchez (129.8) and Nippon Ham’s Nick Martinez (131.3).
Among pitchers who threw their change at least 10 percent of the time, Delta Graphs valued Moore’s as being the second most effective behind far-and-away 2020 leader Yuki Nishi. Moore was in fairly elite company this year with his swing and miss rate of 11.6 percent.
Sanchez is only in his first year in Japan, but had good success with the SK Wyverns in KBO the past two seasons. Sanchez’s big pitch is his splitter, which he threw 21.8 percent of the time. He threw his cutter and curve a little less often.
Sanchez is good at getting guys to chase, which as I must have mentioned somewhere, seems to be the Giants’ team philosophy, but is not overly good at missing bats, which can be problematic against a hard-hitting team that makes good adjustments.
Setting the record straight
On Sunday, Nippon Professional Baseball announced that Yurisbel Gracial had tied a Japan Series record by scoring in nine consecutive games. On Monday, the body issued a correction, noting that the record is 12 games, set by former Hankyu Braves middle infielder Toshizo Sakamoto from 1968 Game 3 to 1971 Game 2.