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Game Notes: PL Climax Series Final Stage Game 3

» 11 November 2011 » In npb » 5 Comments

Yes, this happened a week ago, but it was too good not to write about.

Game three of the Pacific League Climax Series Final Stage doesn’t usually drink beer, but when it does, it prefers Dos Equis. The deciding game of the Pacific League’s Climax Series had nearly everything, including a somewhat strange, anti-climactic ending.

First the good stuff: both starting pitchers were phenomenal. Seibu had the good version of Hideaki Wakui, who held the tough Softbank lineup hitless until the sixth inning. It’s easy to tell when Wakui has his good stuff: he tends to hit 145 kmph or so with his fastball while keeping the ball down, and have sharp command of his slider. He had both of those things against the Hawks. Maybe it was the level of competition or the fact that this was an elimination game, but he looked like a different pitcher than the one who took the mound against Nippon Ham a week earlier.

Softbank starter Toshiya Sugiuchi never really threatened for a no-hitter, but he matched Wakui’s zeroes through regulation. Sugiuchi has stopped trying to throw hard — his top fastball of the night was arough 138 kmph — but his command was masterful and every one of his pitches had movement. He looked a lot like he did the last time I saw him, about a month ago when he no-hit a hapless Orix lineup through six innings. Anyway, Sugiuchi scattered a few soft singles early in the game but cruised through the later innings, retiring 17 batters in a row from the fourth to the ninth inning.

Then the tears came. With one out inn the top of the 10th, Sugi surrendered back-to-back doubles to Okawari Nakamura and Jose Fernandez, resulting in the first run of the game for either side. With that, Softbank manager Koji Akiyama decided to turn to his excellent bullpen to preserve a shot at the win, and Sugiuchi broke down as he departed the game. This wasn’t really out of character, as Sugi’s known to shed a tear or two, but it was just the beginning of an emotional roller coaster.

After Softbank relievers Takehito Kanazawa and Masahiko Morifuku did what they’ve been doing all season (get guys out), Seibu sent Wakui out for the bottom of the 10th. Even this was a bit unusual. Shogo Saito, who had pinch run for DH Fernandez, stayed in the game to player center, while Wakui entered the lineup in the ninth spot, in place fo center fielder Masato Kumashiro. So Seibu played the rest of the game without a DH, a bit of strategy that makes sense given NPB stops games at 12 innings.

Anyway, it looked like Wakui was going to close things out for the Lions, after getting a pop-out, single and ground out on his first three batters of the 10th. Then Yuya Hasegawa doubled home pinch runner Shuhei Fukuda, tying the game at 1-1, and Wakui had his own tearful exit.

With the game tied going in to the 11th, I will point you back to the all-too-prescient Passerby’s comment from my predictions post:

Because there were many of them this year, this needs to be mentioned. In the Climax Series, a game can go up to the 12th inning. A tie goes to the team that has a better record in the regular season. (I’m actually waiting for an “unnecessary” bottom of the 12th, which I am not sure they will play.)

Both sides failed to score in the 11th, though Softbank threatened. With a man on second, Seibu walked top batter Seiichi Uchikawa, and brought in submarining closer Kazuhisa Makita to face brawny slugger Alex Cabrera. Cabrera was no match for Makita’s array of soft stuff, and the game proceeded to the 12th, still tied 1-1.

Softbank sent out closer Takahiro Mahara “close” the game, and he did his job, surrendering a leadoff single but nothing further. And so it was that for the first time (I assume), a postseason series was clinched before the final game was completed.

The Softbank Hawks were set to charge the field when Mahara completed the top of the 12th, but the mood-killing home plate umpire put the brakes on things, and made the Hawks bat for their half of the 12th. It didn’t matter, as the already-defeated Lions came out with a forgivably lethargic effort. Makita immediately surrendered a couple of hits, and the game officially ended in a 2-1 walkoff win for the Hawks.

Then, finally, the beer kake could begin. Alas, it was probably not Dos Equis.

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