2014 Japan Series
The 2014 Japan Series was the 65th match-up of the champions of the Central League and Pacific League, Japan's top two circuits. Each team had won one title in the past, the Hanshin Tigers doing so in 1985 and the SoftBank Hawks in 2011. Softbank won in 5 and Seiichi Uchikawa (7 for 20, 3 RBI) was named Japan Series MVP.
Hanshin finished second in the CL in the 2014 regular season under skipper Yutaka Wada but beat the Hiroshima Carp and Yomiuri Giants in the playoffs. LF Matt Murton (.338/.394/.477) won the batting title, SS Takashi Toritani (.313/.406/.415) was third in OBP and 1B Mauro Gomez (.283/.369/.492, 26 HR) led with 109 RBI. On the mound, Minoru Iwata (9-8, 2.54) was second in ERA and Randy Messenger (13-10, 3.20) led the league with 226 K. Seung-hwan Oh (2-4, 1.76) led with 39 saves.
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks
SoftBank had won the PL regular-season title then beat the Nippon Ham Fighters in the Climax Series. Their manager was Koji Akiyama. The Hawks had a balanced offense with the #3-7 finishers in the PL batting race. CF Yuki Yanagita (.317/.413/.452) was second in OBP, led in runs (91) and was second in steals (33). LF/DH Seiichi Uchikawa (.307/.354/.475) hit 18 homers and 1B/DH Dae-ho Lee (.300/.362/.454) belted 19. 7-year NPB veteran and ex-Tiger Jason Standridge (11-8, 3.30) had the best ERA of their starters, while the bullpen was led by three former major leaguers: Dennis Sarfate (7-1, 37 Sv, 1.05), Ryota Igarashi (1-3, 2 Sv, 1.52) and Hideki Okajima (4-4, 2.11).
Game 1: The Mauro and Matt Show
It was 3-M day for Hanshin as 1B Mauro Gomez, LF Murton and P Messenger led the way in the opener. In the bottom of the 4th, 2B Hiroki Uemoto got things going for the Hawks with a single off Standridge; he advanced on a grounder by SS Toritani and scored on a hit by Gomez. CF Yamato Maeda, the #8 hitter for Hanshin, singled off Standridge to open the bottom of the 5th. Standridge walked 3B Tsuyoshi Nishioka with one out and Toritani with two outs. That brought up Gomez, who again delivered, with a two-run single to left. Murton then doubled to center to score two more runs and make it 5-0. Standridge was yanked and reliever Masahiko Morifuku allowed a double to RF Kosuke Fukudome for a 6-0 Tiger lead.
Messenger ran into trouble in the 6th. PH Nobuhiko Matsunaka, CF Yanagita and LF Uchikawa all singled. 1B Lee hit a sacrifice fly for the first Softbank run, then 3B Nobuhiro Matsuda walked. RF Akira Nakamura grounded out as Messenger escaped without further harm. In the 7th, SS Kenta Imamiya doubled and Yanagita singled him in to make it 6-2 but Shinobu Fukuhara and Seung-hwan Oh retired all six Hawks in the 8th and 9th to end it.
Game 2: A near-perfect pick to start
Hawks: Dae-ho Lee (1)
Softbank turned to 21-year-old Shota Takeda for this crucial road start; he had led the PL in walks in 2013 but had a 3-3, 1.87 record in limited action in the 2014 regular season. He faced a Hanshin team that had won seven consecutive postseason games but he tamed those Tigers today, retiring the first 17 batters.
In the meantime, Atsushi Nohmi did okay but was not as dominant as Takeda. CF Yanagita opened the game with a single, advanced on a bunt by SS Imamiya and scored on a broken-bat single by LF Uchikawa. 1B Lee hit into a double play. In the 4th, Lee avenged himself with a mammoth homer to left off Nohmi. The Hawks would not score again but it would be enough.
Takeda finally allowed a baserunner with two outs in the bottom of the 6th when PH Kensuke Kano (batting for Nohmi) singled. 3B Nishioka doubled to right to cut it to 2-1 but 2B Uemoto grounded out. SS Toritani singled to open the 7th but was caught stealing. Takeda left after 7 with three hits, one walk and five strikeouts in his gem. In the 8th, reliever Igarashi allowed a hit to backup C Akihito Fujii and walked Nishioka but retired Uemoto to escape the jam. In the 9th, closer Sarfate gave up a leadoff hit to Toritani then retired 1B Gomez, LF Murton and RF Fukudome to save the game.
Game 3: Otonari also silences the Tigers
The Hawks got another stellar start, this time from Kenji Otonari. After missing over a year with back problems, Otonari was 3-1 with a 1.84 ERA in the regular season in 2014 and had allowed 2 runs in 14 2/3 postseason innings. He kept it up today, holding Hanshin to three hits and one walk in seven shutout innings, fanning six.
Softbank again jumped on the board in the first. CF Yanagita hit a leadoff double to right off Shintaro Fujinami and scored on a one-out double by LF Uchikawa. In the bottom of the 4th, DH Yuki Yoshimura walked and was bunted over by SS Imamiya. Yoshimura later came around to score on a Fujinami wild pitch. In the 6th, Yoshimura again got things started with a single. With two outs, Kazuya Takamiya relieved Fujinami (who had thrown 111 pitches) but hit Yanagita and 2B Kenji Akashi singled (Akashi would go 2 for 2 with two walks). Yuya Ando replaced Takamiya and retired Uchikawa on a run-scoring force. 1B Lee then hit a two-run single, his third hit of the game.
After seven stellar outings from Otonari, Igarashi had a 1-2-3 8th. In the 9th, Sarfate got the first two outs before 2B Uemoto doubled and SS Toritani singled him in to avoid a shutout.
Game 4: Nakamura ends it with a blast
Hawks: Akira Nakamura (1)
Hanshin nearly scored first after Softbank had done so the prior two games. With two outs in the first, Kenichi Nakata walked SS Toritani, 1B Gomez and LF Murton but RF Fukudome struck out to end it. The Hawks then kept up their first-inning success in the bottom of the inning against Iwata. CF Yanagita once again was the sparkplug, with a double. 2B Akashi bunted and reached on a fielder's choice. LF Uchikawa walked to load the bases. 1B Lee struck out, but 3B Matsuda hit a two-run single; CF Maeda threw out Uchikawa at the plate as they tried to make it a three-run play. That proved crucial when RF Nakamura singled, which would have otherwise scored Uchikawa. After that, Iwata looked like an ace again, blanking Softbank for the next six frames.
Hanshin finally got a multi-run inning, their first since game 1, in the 3rd. Nakata again battled control problems, walking Uemoto, Toritani and Gomez in order with one out. Murton hit a sacrifice fly. Fukudome then singled in Toritani but was thrown out by Yanagita as he tried to stretch it into a double. After six walks in three innings, Nakata was yanked. Young Nao Higashihama tossed three shutout innings, Yuito Mori worked a perfect 7th and Igarashi retired six in a row in the 8th and 9th.
In the top of the 10th, Sarfate became the 5th Softbank pitcher and Hanshin got their first baserunners since the 6th. Nishioka singled to lead off and was bunted over by Uemoto. Toritani then singled to put two men aboard, but Gomez hit into a 5-4-3 double play. In the bottom of the 10th, Akashi drew a leadoff walk from Ando. With one out, backup 2B Yuichi Honda (Akashi had moved to 1B) bunted and for the second time Softbank had a batter reach on a fielder's choice during a bunt. Hanshin turned to Oh, a two-time Korean Series MVP, and their closer retired Matsuda. That brought up, Nakamura, a relatively light hitter (.309/.376/.383, 4 HR in the regular season). This time, he showed pop, smacking a three-run dinger off Oh to put the Hawks up 3 games to 1.
Game 5: A pitching duel and a dramatic end
The last game was an exciting 1-0 duel between Messenger (the lone Hanshin hurler to win this Series) and former Sawamura Award Settsu (who had a 10-8, 3.90 season and had struggled in his lone postseason outing). Softbank challenged in the third against Messenger when 1B Yoshimura hit a leadoff single and CF Yanagita a two-out single; 2B Akashi hit a shot to center but CF Maeda continued his stellar defense with a diving catch to save at least one run.
In the 6th, Softbank again had a chance as LF Uchikawa and DH Lee singled with one out; after another out, RF Nakamura hit a shot to the track but unlike his game 4 blast, it fell short and Maeda made a running grab to save more runs. Settsu left after six innings (4 H, 1 BB, 7 K) and Mori (1 H) and Igarashi each tossed a scoreless frame.
In the bottom of the 8th, Messenger allowed his 7th hit, a leadoff single to Yanagita. Akashi bunted him over then Uchikawa singled. Cleanup man Lee struck out. That brought up 3B Matsuda, who came through in the clutch, with a full-count single to center to drive in Yanagita with the game's only run.
The drama wasn't over. In the top of the 9th, Sarfate walked 2B Uemoto, fanned SS Toritani then walked 1B Gomez and RF Fukudome as Hanshin was suddenly mounting a rally against the Softbank closer. That brought up DH Nishioka, who had two of Hanshin's five hits today. This time, though, he grounded weakly to Akashi (now covering 1B). Akashi threw home to get the force, then the umpire ruled Nishioka had caused interference by running inside the first base line.
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