TOKOROZAWA, Saitama--Yu Darvish got the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters back on course on Saturday.
Making the most of a wicked two-seamer, the 22-year-old threw a three-hitter for his first career postseason shutout in a 5-0 victory over the Saitama Seibu Lions in Game 2 of the Pacific League Climax Series' second stage.
"It's not often that you feel that comfortable on the mound," said Darvish, who struck out six and walked three. "You'd have to be a fool to be nervous when things are going like that."
After being manhandled 10-3 in Friday night's second-stage opener, the Fighters put the first run on the board with three third-inning singles on Saturday.
With two outs and men on first and second, Hichori Morimoto, who had failed to get down a first-inning bunt, singled off the eighth pitch from Takayuki Kishi to open the scoring.
"It was good to see that from Hichori, especially after that failed bunt," said Fighters skipper Masataka Nashida. "He made up for it at the perfect time. We're 1-1 now."
Actually, the Fighters are down 2-1 thanks to the PL champions starting the best-of-seven series with a one-game advantage. But it was a big turnaround after the shellacking in Omiya the night before.
"Coming here to their main park, it was a must win for us," Nashida said. "He [Darvish] had a great tempo out there today. His two-seamer was getting some tremendous break on it. He is something special."
The Lions struggled from start to finish although they had scoring chances in the first and third innings.
"He has so many pitches that he is so hard to time," said Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe. "Every time you face him, it's different."
In the fourth, a leadoff walk and a pair of one-out singles doubled the Fighters' lead before things really fell apart for Kishi, who allowed four runs in the inning.
With runners on first and second, Tomochika Tsuboi swatted at a high fastball out of the zone. The ball bounced over the pitcher, under the glove of shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima and off the end of second baseman Yasuyuki Kataoka's glove and into shallow left.
Terrmel Sledge scored from second and Eiichi Koyano took third, from where he scored on a shallow fly to right off the bat of Shinya Tsuruoka.
The ball had trouble written all over it, and right fielder Hiram Bocachica had to settle for an awkward catch and a poor throwing position.
"I was planning to go all the way," Koyano said. "When I saw how he had to catch it, I thought I had a good chance."
Catcher Toru Hosokawa fielded the throw up the third base line but Koyano had just enough time to dodge Hosokawa's tag and touch the plate.
Fighters team leader Makoto Kaneko, who hit two homers all season, capped the inning with a two-run shot.
Kishi threw several dynamite curves in the game, but his next was not among them. Three weeks before his 33rd birthday, Kaneko got an early present and put a good swing on it.
Kishi allowed five runs on seven hits and two walks over four innings. The 23-year-old, who went 12-4 in the regular season, struck out three in his postseason debut.
The extra runs were gravy for Darvish, who improved his career postseason record to 7-2.
"I was planning on this finishing 1-0," he said. "As soon as I had a lead, I just concentrated on getting each hitter in turn."
From that point on, Darvish retired 18 of the last 22 Lions batters, using a total of 124 pitches.
"The lousy way we lost yesterday made me as determined as ever today," Darvish said. "Of course, you never go to the mound thinking you're going to lose.
"I felt great in the bullpen. Although I was a little shaky in the first two innings, I got over it. By the end I wasn't worried about anything, if I fell behind in a count, it didn't matter."
Game 3 is today at 1 p.m. with Masaru Takeda (8-7) on the mound for the Fighters against fellow lefty Kazuyuki Hoashi (11-6).
Takeda will be looking to put his 2007 postseason nightmare firmly in the past. He was 0-3 last autumn, allowing 11 runs in 2-2/3 innings. Hoashi, who will be pitching for the first time this late in the year, went 1-4 against the Fighters this season. He allowed 18 runs in 31 innings.
The Fighters' Game 2 win means Game 4 will be played here Tuesday after an off day Monday.
"We just have to play so that we don't have to face Darvish again," said Lions head coach Yukinobu Kuroe. "He's just really, really good."