It took Kan Otake 18 pro seasons to reach the Japan Series and about two minutes for it to go south on him. The veteran right-hander, who joined the Yomiuri Giants as a free agent after the Giants lost the 2013 series in seven games, got his first opportunity on Sunday.
The 36-year-old, who found new life this season in middle relief, entered the seventh inning of a scoreless game in relief of Cristopher Mercedes, only for an error to put the leadoff man on base after slugger Alfredo Despaigne struggled to make contact.
With pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto on first, the SoftBank Hawks pulled off a run and hit on a 2-1 pitch to Yurisbel Gracial that put runners on the corners with no outs.
Otake’s 15th pitch, a 2-0 fastball was up and got a little too much of the plate and way too much of the barrel. Nobuhiro Matsuda launched it out over the imposing distant center field wall to break up the scoreless game.
“That was pretty rare for me to hit one out to center field,” Matsuda said.
The Hawks looked to add on a run in the eighth by having two-time batting champion Seiichi Uchikawa sacrifice for the second straight game, but no more runs would cross until Yuki Yanagita and Shuhei Fukuda went deep in the eighth off a pair of big breaking balls.
“That (home run power) is really our bread and butter,” manager Kimiyasu Kudo said a day after asserting that the Hawks’ strength was their ability to play small ball.
Mercedes and Hawks rookie Rei Takahashi combined to make this the first game in the series’ 70-year history without a base runner through four innings, a stretch Matsuda ended with a two-out fifth-inning single. Mercedes got hitters to chase his slider out of the zone, while Takahashi confounded them with great run on his fastball and some wonderful movement with his screwball.
Hawks spreading the love
The Hawks’ home winning streak extends back to their 2011 championship against the Chunichi Dragons. This is their fifth series since and a victory this time will see them complete a grand slam of sorts by defeating all six Central League teams, having knocked off the Hanshin Tigers in 2014, the Yakult Swallows (2015), the DeNA BayStars (2017) and Hiroshima Carp (2018).
With both pitchers on, the game really turned on the defense, which helped Takahashi get away with a some good swings on his mistakes and kept him in the game as long as he was.
All in all it was a spectacle a great pitchers’ duel, combined with home runs and a late comeback as the Giants scored three runs in the ninth and put the tying run on deck before the game ended.
“Mercedes was really flying tonight,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “Nice pitching.”
“Our bullpen gave up hits on miss-located pitches. Next time we’ll have to pitch so we don’t throw them where they’re easy to hit.”