Osaka – Ryoya Kurihara had to wait until his fourth trip to the Japan Series before getting his first hit.
He didn’t have to wait nearly as long for the next two.
Kurihara hit a two-run home run and a two-run double in support of starter Kodai Senga and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks got their chase for a fourth straight Japan Series title off to a winning start with a 5-1 victory over the Yomiuri Giants in Game 1 in front of a crowd of 16,489 at Kyocera Dome on Saturday night.
“I was a little nervous and I wasn’t really thinking about anything out there,” Kurihara said.
SoftBank leads the best-of-seven series 1-0.
Dating back to 2018 against the Hiroshima Carp, the Hawks have won a record nine straight Japan Series games. Including Climax Series contest, SoftBank is on a 13-game winning streak in the postseason.
“Just like during the regular season, we play one game at a time and once the game is over, we look toward the next game,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said.
Senga came away with the win in a matchup of arguably the top two pitchers in Japan. The Hawks starter wasn’t as quite sharp as Kyojin ace Tomoyuki Sugano early, but had enough to hold down Yomiuri. Senga struck out six and walked three over seven scoreless innings.
An unlikely star provided most of the run support.
Kurihara was on the Japan Series roster as a rookie in 2017, but didn’t record an at-bat. He got up to sacrifice bunt once in 2018 and didn’t record an at-bat in 2019 either. He was in Kudo’s starting lineup this year after a 17-home run regular season.
He pounced on a hanging slider in the second, knocking it off the lower-deck facade in right for a two-run homer.
He hit a two-out double in his second at-bat and drove in two more runs with another double in the sixth.
“I was still nervous,” he said, adding that he was just trying to put a good swing on the ball.
Kurihara finished 3-for-3 after drawing a walk in the eighth.
“Unlike during the Climax Series, he was aggressive and we’re glad he performed well and drove in runs for us,” Kudo said.
Akira Nakamura’s RBI single in the eighth accounted for the Hawks’ other run.
Sugano caught too much of the plate with the slider Kurihara hit in the second but pitched well otherwise early.
He’d retired the first two he faced in the sixth before hitting Yuki Yanagita and giving up a single to Yurisbel Gracial. Kurihara drove in both with his second double of the night.
Sugano was charged with four runs on six hits over six innings. It was the first time he allowed four runs since his second start of the season.
A sacrifice fly by Zelous Wheeler got the Giants on the board in the ninth.
The pitching matchup for Game 2 will pit SoftBank’s Shuta Ishikawa (11-3 with a 2.42 ERA during the regular season) against Yomiuri’s Nobutaka Imamura (5-2, 3.16) on Sunday.
There was no ceremonial first pitch before the opener, but both teams led the crowd in a round of applause to honor the health care workers battling COVID-19. There were also constant reminders for fans to wear masks.
After the Hawks went down in order in the first, Gracial, last season’s Japan Series MVP, singled to right to start the second. Kurihara followed with his home run to give SoftBank an early 2-0 lead.
Kurihara doubled with two outs in the second and came home looking to add to the Hawks’ lead after Alfredo Despaigne singled to left. Wheeler had other plans, though, scooping up the ball and firing home from shallow left in time to nail Kurihara at the plate.
It was Yomiuri’s turn to go on the attack in the fourth.
Hayato Sakamoto and Kazuma Okamoto drew walks to start the inning, bringing Yoshihiro Maru to the plate. Senga, though, got Maru to hit into a double play and retired Yoshiyuki Kamei to wriggle free.
With runners on first and second in the sixth, Kurihara stretched the lead to 4-0 with his second double of the night.
“I was happy I could give us an extra run,” Kurihara said.
After the Hawks added an insurance run on a single by Nakamura in the eighth, Yomiuri loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth.
Wheeler got one run across with a sacrifice fly before Yuito Mori closed the door on the Giants.