Before Sunday night’s Japan Series game against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, Tokyo Yakult Swallows manager Mitsuru Manaka was feeling confident, even after a one-sided loss in the opener the previous day.
“This season, we continually won games that we couldn’t afford to lose,” he said. “I have high expectations.”
The Swallows, who did not lose back-to-back games over the final month of the regular season, are nearing the must-win stage after meekly going down to a second straight defeat, falling 4-0 in Game 2 at Fukuoka Yahuoku! Dome.
Rick VandenHurk held the Swallows to three hits over eight scoreless innings, and Lee Dae Ho and Akira Nakamura both homered to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead as the series moves to Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium for the third game Tuesday night.
The Swallows showed their tenacity in emerging victorious in a tight Central League pennant race, but have been all but silent at the plate in their first Japan Series appearance since 2001.
The Swallows, who got just four hits in losing the opener 4-2, showed a spark of life to start Sunday’s game, when leadoff hitter Tsuyoshi Ueda singled to left. But he was thrown out trying to steal second on the first pitch to Shingo Kawabata, and Kawabata and Tetsuto Yamada both went down easily.
Throughout the season when the Swallows had a runner on first and No. 2 hitter Kawabata at the plate, the bench made no special moves, as Kawabata hit .454 in that situation. With Kawabata hitting away, it set the table for the next two hitters, Yamada and Kazuhiro Hatakeyama, and provided the Swallows with their best pattern for scoring runs.
Perhaps he saw a hitch in VandenHurk’s motion or felt Kawabata and Yamada were not batting well, but Manaka decided to send the runner. “I wanted to apply pressure with the runner,” he said.
In 44 of Yakult’s 76 wins, they scored first and did not surrender the lead. In terms of scoring by innings, the Swallows chalked up 84 runs in the first frame.
The Swallows failed to score after putting two runners on in the first inning on Saturday, and the lack of establishing an early rhythm again helped lead to another defeat.
The Swallows hopes of turning around the series are boosted by the fact that they were 44-22-1 at Jingu.
“I think we’ll be able to play our style of baseball,” Hatakeyama said.