For Fighters fans, it must have seemed like the inning from hell. Seven runs scored, seven hits (including five in a row at one point), a dozen batters sent to the plate to face three pitchers--and that was just the first inning.
The Chunichi Dragons exploded out of the blocks Tuesday night at Nagoya Dome, thumping the Nippon-Ham Fighters 9-1 in Game 3 of the Japan Series. The rout of the defending champions gave the Dragons a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Dragons jumped all over Fighters starter Masaru Takeda early. His first pitch of the game hit Chunichi leadoff hitter Masahiro Araki in the foot and things went downhill from there in a hurry.
Tyrone Woods nailed a single up the middle to score Araki and veteran Norihiro Nakamura followed with a run-scoring double off the wall in center field. Lee Byung Kyu then rapped a two-run double into the gap in right-center, prompting F's manager Trey Hillman to replace Takeda with Brian Sweeney.
That move failed to stop the bleeding, however, as Sweeney gave up a couple more runs on four hits in just a third of an inning. Right-hander Yoshinori Tateyama then came on and--mercifully--retired Masahiko Morino on a pop fly to left to end the inning, seven runs and 12 batters after it started.
Back-to-back doubles from Fernando Seguignol and Takahito Kudo put Nippon-Ham on the board in the second inning, but Dragons catcher Motonobu Tanishige stroked a two-run double in the bottom of the frame to make it 9-1. Tanishige was 3-for-4 with three RBIs.
Nakamura had a pair of doubles and a single on a 3-for-5 night and scored two runs for Chunichi.
Dragons right-hander Kenta Asakura worked seven innings of eight-hit, one-run ball to pick up the win. He was steady if unspectacular--which is all that's required when your team spots you an early seven-run lead--finishing with four strikeouts and no walks.
Takeda, on the other hand, lasted just a third of an inning in taking the loss. The lefty allowed five runs on three hits, a walk and a hit batter.
The Dragons out-hit the Hammies 12-9 on the night.
The teams split the first two games in Sapporo, with the Fighters taking the opener 3-1 on Saturday and the Dragons winning Game 2 on Sunday night, 8-1.
Game 4 goes tonight, also in Nagoya. After the fifth game, the series shifts back to Sapporo for Games 6 and 7, if necessary.
The same teams squared off in last year's Japan Series, with the Fighters winning in five games. The Dragons last won the title in 1954.
Hillman, who is in his fifth year managing the Fighters, will take over as skipper of the Kansas City Royals after this season.
The Kansas City Star has a reporter covering the series as interest in Japanese baseball has spiked in the U.S. Midwest since the signing of Hillman.
(IHT/Asahi: October 31, 2007)