Nippon Series Game 4 – SoftBank Win in Extras, Go Up 3-1

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In a must-win situation, the Tigers mustered a mere four hits all night. With a huge chance to take the lead and tie the series at two, their RBI King grounded into a double play. With the game on the line in the bottom of the tenth, their Saves King gave up a 3-run walk-off home run. Akira Nakamura and the SoftBank Hawks won 5-2 in extra innings to push the Tigers to the brink of elimination.

The Tigers needed to avoid what they had done in their previous two games: giving up an early lead and not hitting in the first three innings. With Minoru Iwata (2.54 ERA on the season, 7 strong innings against the Giants) on the mound, the first part of the equation seemed like it would be solved. But whether or not the Tigers would solve Hawks starter Kenichi Nakata, especially after struggling mightily against Shota Takeda and Kenji Ohtonari in Games 2 & 3, was a concern.

Unfortunately, Iwata fell into the same hole as Nohmi and Fujinami did before him, giving up a leadoff double to Yanagita, then making a bad decision on Akashi’s bunt, resulting in two runners on base without a single out. He then walked the next batter, making things even worse. A strikeout later, he was a double play away from escaping the jam. Unfortunately, Matsuda drove a ball to left, scoring two. The team would face an early deficit in yet another game. The next batter also got a hit, but thanks to yet another incredible defensive play by centerfielder Yamato, the runner at the plate was thrown out, and one strikeout later, the Tigers came back up to bat for the second.

However, through three innings, the Tigers failed to find their bats (getting just one hit). This was not all bad news, as Nakata struggled badly with his control in the first and third. He walked the bases loaded with two outs in the first, and did so again in the third with one out. It was at this time that the Tigers managed to tie the game off a Matt Murton sacrifice fly and a Kosuke Fukudome single. His failed attempt to turn it into a double ended the inning.

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Matt Murton gets brushed back by a pitch.

Iwata struggled again in the bottom of the third, allowing two base runners, but escaped without allowing another run. The Hawks brought in relief early, in the form of youngster Nao Higashihama. He held down the fort in the middle three frames, allowing just one hit and two walks, striking out three. Fortunately for the Tigers, the Hawks also failed to get anything going in the bottom of those frames, and the score remained 2-2 through six.

To the surprise of many, Iwata came out in the bottom of the seventh with the score tied. He had already thrown 109 pitches, and it would have been easy to replace him. He gave up a leadoff double down the left field line, but got out of the inning safely after inducing two grounders, intentionally walking Uchikawa and striking out Honda. Despite Iwata’s strong and courageous outing, the Tigers simply could not put runs on the board, and he left the game with the score tied at 2.

Nakamura’s walk-off home run in the 10th came after six straight scoreless innings. Tigers reliever Yuya Andoh, who had pitched a clean ninth, allowed a leadoff walk before a misplayed sacrifice bunt by Fujii put runners on first and second. (Update: Newspapers show a still shot of the runner actually being out at second.) He was pulled with one out. Closer Seung-hwan Oh got one out and appeared to be close to bailing Andoh out when the Pacific League hits leader took a 1-2 fastball for a long ride over the right field wall, just left of the foul pole.

The Hawks are now one victory away from winning the Nippon Series for the first time in three years. They will put Tadashi Settsu on the mound, while the Tigers will try to bring the series back to Koshien as Randy Messenger takes to the mound. Nothing is impossible, and the series is not over yet. Win or lose, Tigers Pride! GO TIGERS!

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