2015 Japan Series
The 2015 Japan Series was the 66th match-up of the champions of the Central League and Pacific League, Japan's top two circuits. The defending champion Softbank Hawks took on the Yakult Swallows, whose last title had been in 2001; the Hawks defended their title in five games. Korean slugger Dae-ho Lee was named Series MVP.
Yakult had won the 2015 CL regular-season title then took 3 of 4 in the playoffs from the Yomiuri Giants. They were managed by Mitsuru Manaka. Yakult led the CL in offense (574 runs) but their pitching and defense (518 runs allowed) were only 4th of the six teams. The offense was carried by 2B Tetsuto Yamada, who hit .329/.416/.610 with 38 home runs, 34 steals, 119 runs and 100 RBI. 3B Shingo Kawabata (.336/.386/.439, 87 R) and 1B Kazuhiro Hatakeyama (.268/.344/.471, 26 HR, 105 RBI) were the top supporters as foreign import players Lastings Milledge, Wladimir Balentien and Mitch Dening all turned in poor campaigns. On the mound, Shohei Tateyama (6-3, 2.89), Yasuhiro Ogawa (11-8, 3.11) and Masanori Ishikawa (13-9, 3.31) were the top starters while the bullpen was led by Tony Barnette (3-1, 41 Sv, 1.29), Logan Ondrusek (5-2, 2.05), Ryo Akiyoshi (6-1, 2.36) and Orlando Roman (5-5, 2.40).
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks
SoftBank had won the PL regular-season title by an easy 12 games then swept the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Climax Series. Their manager was Kimiyasu Kudoh, in his first year at the reigns. They led the PL in both offense (651 runs) and pitching/defense (491 runs allowed). They also had a young 30-30 threat in CF Yuki Yanagita (.363/.469/.631, 34 HR, 32 SB, 110 R, 99 RBI) and he had plenty of help, with DH/1B Dae-ho Lee (.282/.368/.524, 31 HR, 98 RBI) and 3B Nobuhiro Matsuda (.287/.357/.533, 35 HR, 91 R, 94 RBI) providing pop. Rick van den Hurk (9-0, 2.52, 120 K in 93 IP) and Shota Takeda (13-6, 3.17) were the ace starters while Dennis Sarfate (5-1, 41 Sv, 1.11, 102 K in 64 2/3 IP, .63 WHIP) and Ryota Igarashi (3-1, 2 Sv, 1.38) were a potent back end of the bullpen.
Game 1: Takeda carries the day
Hawks: Shota Takeda W (1-0)
Swallows: Kazuhiro Hatakeyama
Hawks: Nobuhiro Matsuda
Softbank continued their strong 2014 Series performance, in control of this one from early on. Yakult did get two hits in the first, from 3B Kawabata and 1B Hatakeyama, but young Takeda retired RF Yuhei Takai to escape the jam. Softbank had a chance in the bottom of the first; with two out against starter Ishikawa, CF Yanagita singled, DH Lee doubled and 3B Matsuda walked, but RF Akira Nakamura grounded out to SS Keiji Obiki.
In the bottom of the 4th, the Hawks got on the board in a big way. Matsuda started by taking Ishikawa deep, then the team rapped five more hits in a row to tie the Japan Series record of six consecutive hits. Nakamura, 1B Yuki Yoshimura, SS Kenta Imamiya, C Hiroaki Takaya (RBI) and LF Keizo Kawashima (RBI) all had singles to make it 3-0. In the bottom of the 6th, the Hawks tacked on an insurance run against Taichi Ishiyama. Imamiya singled and was bunted over by Takaya. With two outs, 2B Kenji Akashi doubled in Imamiya for a 4-0 lead. Softbank had another chance in the 7th, loading the bases against Roman before Takaya grounded out to end it.
Takeda, meanwhile, was cruising, having allowed one hit and one walk since the first and keeping his shutout intact. In the 9th, he finally faded. With one out, Kawabata hit into an Imamiya error and with two away, Hatakeyama homered, breaking up the shutout bid. Takeda still finished with a four-hit, one-walk complete game, though he fanned only one. He wound up being the youngest pitcher in Hawks franchise history to win game 1 of a Japan Series. He was backed by hits from 11 different players, led by 3 from Lee.
Game 2: Multi-continental attack paves the way for Hawks
Softbank got another strong pitching performance, this time by van den Hurk, who went eight shutout innings, allowing three hits with no walks and seven strikeouts. It was part of a multi-continental victory for Softbank with European van den Hurk (Netherlands), North American Sarfate (USA) striking out two of three in the ninth and Asians Lee (South Korea) and Nakamura (Japan) going deep.
In the bottom of the first, the Hawks tied a Japan Series record with three steals in an inning, by RF Shuhei Fukada, 2B Akashi and CF Yanagita, but failed to score when 1B Lee struck out against Ogawa and 3B Matsuda flew out. In the bottom of the 4th, they did get on the board, as Yanagita walked and Lee followed with a dinger. In the bottom of the sixth, they put on insurance against Akiyoshi when LF Nakamura hit a one-out home run. Imamiya followed with a single and Fukuda later singled off Ondrusek to score Imamiya to make it 4-0.
Van den Hurk became the first foreign pitcher in Hawks history to win a Japan Series game his first year with the team. It was the first time the Swallows had lost consecutive games for over a month.
Game 3: Yamada comes alive with a record-setting day
Swallows star 2B Yamada, 1 for 7 in games 1 and 2, came alive at home in a big way as the team won after producing no runs before the 9th in their first two contests. They doubled their Series offensive output in the game's first three batters. CF Tsuyoshi Ueda drew a leadoff walk from Kenichi Nakata. With one out, Yamada went deep for a 2-0 lead. Softbank tied it quickly off Toshihiro Sugiura in the top of the second. LF Nakamura singled, SS Imamiya hit into a force, C Takaya singled, Sugiura threw a run-scoring wild pitch and RF Fukuda singled in Takaya to tie it.
In the bottom of the third, Yamada hammered a shot to center off Nakata for a 3-2 lead. The Hawks tied it again in the top of the 4th on a solo home run by Imamiya. They then took their only lead in the top of the 5th when 2B Akashi homered to chase Sugiura. Five Swallows relievers would shut out Softbank the rest of the way, with Ishiyama working the most (1 1/3 IP).
Yakult took the lead for good in the bottom of the 5th. With two away, Nakata walked 3B Kawabata. As Yamada had already taken Nakata deep twice, Kudoh yanked Nakata in favor of Kodai Senga. The move did not pan out as Yamada smacked his third home run of the day, giving him all 5 of his club's RBI to that point. He became the first player to hit three home runs in a Japan Series game. The Swallows kept up the power in the 8th. Igarashi walked PH Yuichi Matsumoto and C Yuhei Nakamura hit a run-scoring two-bagger. After two outs, 1B Hatakeyama delivered his second two-run dinger of the Series. The only other time Yakult had four home runs in a Japan Series game was in game 6 of the 1992 Japan Series.
Game 4: Lee's big bat powers Softbank to victory
Hawks: Toru Hosokawa
Softbank rebounded from game 3's loss to move one win from a title. In the top of the first, RF Fukuda drew an opening walk from Tateyama, then CF Yanagita drew a one-out walk and 1B Lee hit a run-scoring single. In the top of the third, Softbank got the inning that made the difference. Fukuda again got things going, this time with a single. 2B Akashi and Yanagita both drew walks. Lee then smacked a three-run double. His four RBI in a Japan Series game tied Kenji Johjima's 15-year-old franchise record. With one away, LF Akira Nakamura hit into an error by SS Takahiro Imanani. C Toru Hosokawa then clubbed a RBI double to make it 5-0.
Yakult scored their first run off former Sawamura Award winner Tadashi Settsu in the bottom of the 4th. LF Balentien and Imanani both singled, then C Yuhei Nakamura grounded in Balentien. Softbank went back up by five in the top of the 6th when Hosokawa homered off Kenichi Matsuoka. In the bottom of the 6th, the Swallows had their best frame. Balentien singled and Imanani walked, then Yuhei Nakamura singled. Yuito Mori relieved and got one out but CF Ueda hit a two-run double and 3B Kawabata grounded in a run to close it to 6-4.
Yakult had a shot in the 9th off closer Sarfate. With one out, Kawabata singled. Sarfate retired game 3 hero Yamada, but walked 1B Hatakeyama to put the potential winning run at the plate. RF Takai struck out, though, to end it. Yakult's 8-game home winning streak in Japan Series play came to an end. Their last home Japan Series loss had come in 1995 as they won all home games in 1997, 1999 and 2001 as well as game 3 this year.
Game 5: The Hawks fly away with it
Hawks: Dae-ho Lee (2)
Softbank finished up their second straight five-game Series win to become the first team to win multiple Series since the Seibu Lions won three in a row from 1990 to 1992. Yakult's big bats were silent for the second time this Series. They had chances in the second and third against Jason Standridge but failed to deliver. In the second, LF Balentien and RF Takai singled, but were stranded when C Yuhei Nakamura grounded out. In the third, CF Ueda walked and 3B Kawabata singled with one out, bringing up the heavy artillery, but 2B Yamada struck out and 1B Hatakeyama flew out.
The Hawks then took the lead in the 4th. 2B Akashi doubled off Ishikawa, then 1B Lee hit a one-out, two-run homer for his 7th and 8th RBI of the Series. In the 5th, SS Imamiya doubled, Standridge coaxed a one-out walk and LF Kawashima hit into an error by Kawabata. Akashi then delivered a run-scoring single and CF Yanagita grounded in a run. They got one more in the 9th, off Barnette. PH Yuichi Honda singled and was bunted over by RF Fukuda. Akashi, 3 for 4 to that point, grounded out, but Yanagita singled to score the last run.
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