Seiichi Uchikawa ended the Lotte Marines' hopes of an opening game upset on Wednesday, when he singled home the winning run in the SoftBank Hawks' 3-2, 10th-inning win in the Pacific League Climax Series Final Stage.
With one out and the bases loaded in the 10th, Uchikawa hit the seventh pitch from Marines closer Tatsuya Uchi (0-1) to end it. With SoftBank entering the six-game series with one win by virtue of being league champs, the Hawks are two wins away from earning a chance to win a second-straight Japan Series.
"The instant we reached extra innings, I recalled (Yuki) Yoshimura had a sayonara hit in last year's opener, and I thought I might get a shot at it," said Uchikawa, the Hawks' elder statesman. "When the first batter reached safely on an uncaught third strike, I had the feeling something might happen here. Who'd have guessed it (the chance to win it) would fall to me."
"First of all, it was a case of the ball hitting the bat. It wasn't like I was in control. When I made contact, my mind was completely blank. Now I'm going to have to look at it on video."
"To be honest, there were so many times during the season when I was holding the team back, so in the end, I want to contribute in the Climax Series and the Japan Series. We've still got a long way to go, but I'm glad to contribute early on."
The Marines, looking to repeat their singular 2010 feat of reaching the Japan Series despite a third-place finish in the league, cashed in their first scoring chance on a two-out, two-run Ikuhiro Kiyota double in the third. Hawks curveball master Shota Takeda could not locate his pitches, constantly working behind in the count and it cost him in the third.
Marines catcher Tatsuhiro Tamura singled on a 1-0 pitch, and Shota Ishimine walked on six pitches. Kiyota got ahead in the count 3-0 before driving a 3-2 fastball off the wall in right for an opposite-field double.
The Hawks, who put two runners on in each of the first two innings against Yuta Omine, tied it up in the bottom of the third on Yuki Yanagita's two-run homer.
Kenji Akashi opened with a single. Although trailing by two with likely PL MVP Yanagita on deck, SoftBank skipper Kimiyasu Kudo played for one run. After sacrificing the runner to second, the Hawks tied it on one swing as Omine missed up with a fastball away and Yanagita drove it deep into the center-field stands.
The Marines went to their bullpen from the fourth inning, after Omine allowed two runs on six hits and a walk, while Takeda worked into the fifth. The Hawks starter gave up five hits and three walks, while striking out six in his 4-1/3 innings.
Hard-throwing Kodai Senga took over in the fifth for SoftBank. Inheriting runners on second and third with one out, Senga walked the first batter he faced to load them up. But Senga struck out the Marines' hard-hitting foreign attack, Alfredo Despaigne and Luis Cruz.
The Marines bullpen didn't face a challenge until the 10th, when right-hander Uchi's swinging third strike to pinch hitter Seiji Uebayashi got past his catcher for a wild pitch that put the batter on first. A sacrifice and Yuya Hasegawa's pinch-hit single past the pitcher put runners on the corners with one out.
Lotte elected to pitch around the left-handed-hitting Yanagita to load the bases for right-handed fourth and fifth hitters Uchikawa and Lee Dae Ho. But Uchikawa looped an easy single to center to end it.
Former big leaguer Ryota Igarashi (1-0), the Hawks' fourth reliever, earned the win after pitching a 1-2-3 10th inning.
Giants 4, Swallows 1
At Jingu Stadium, Hayato Sakamoto's two-run, fifth-inning homer brought Yomiuri from a run down, and ace Tetsuya Utsumi allowed a run in 4-2/3 innings in a win over league champion Yakult in the opener of the CL Climax Series final stage.
Leslie Anderson singled in two runs in the sixth to pad the visitors' lead and even the six-game series at 1-1 as the Swallows receive a one-win advantage for winning the league.