An inspirational effort by a man playing through pain or a prime example of a manager prematurely hitting the panic button?
With his club down 1-0 in the best-of-seven Japan Series, Nippon-Ham Fighters manager Masataka Nashida elected to start his injured ace Yu Darvish on 42 days' rest Sunday--that's how long it had been since he last started a game, although the gangly right-hander had been throwing in the bullpen.
And young Darvish rewarded his skipper with six serviceable if unspectacular innings as the Fighters topped the Yomiuri Giants 4-2 at Sapporo Dome to square the series at a game apiece. With the win, Darvish improved his career postseason record to 8-2.
"Today, I pitched with my heart," Darvish said. "I was unable to pitch in the Climax Series so I really wanted to make up for that. Overall, this is just a great night for me."
The Series now moves to Tokyo Dome for games Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before heading back to Sapporo next weekend for Games 6 and 7, if necessary.
Darvish got all the run support he needed in the third inning. Atsunori Inaba connected for a solo home run to right off Giants starter Tetsuya Utsumi and the red-hot Terrmel Sledge later slashed an RBI single to left to make it 2-0. A two-run double to right by Yoshio Itoi upped the Fighters' lead to 4-0 and spelled the end of Utsumi's night as Giants manager Tatsunori Hara called on another of his starters from this season, young right-hander Shun Tono out of the bullpen.
"I came up with two out and nobody on base so I just wanted to take a full swing and I managed to hit one out," said Inaba, who drove in 85 runs this year, of his solo blast.
Yoshiyuki Kamei ripped a two-run homer down the left-field line off Darvish in the fourth that just stayed fair to make it a 4-2 game, and the Giants loaded the bases in the fifth inning on three straight two-out singles, but Darvish was able to strike out Michihiro Ogasawara--for the second time of the evening--to end that threat.
The speculation in the days leading up to the Japan Series was that Darvish would be unable to pitch due to a stiff shoulder and pain in his lower back, which kept him out of the Pacific League Climax Series. However, rumors began to surface late Friday-early Saturday that Nashida might give his 15-game winner the ball for Game 2.
When Darvish was announced as the starting pitcher Sunday night, the large crowd at Sapporo Dome let out a roar of approval. Darvish's velocity was down--he never breached 150-kph on the radar gun all night--and he relied on a steady diet of breaking balls and offspeed stuff to get the job done Sunday.
Darvish, who led the PL with a 1.73 ERA this season, threw 87 pitches over six innings. He allowed two runs on seven hits--including Kamei's two-run homer--while striking out seven and not issuing a walk.
"I'm satisfied I was able to give my team a chance to win," Darvish said. "I felt comfortable out there and didn't experience any problems."
Relievers Naoki Miyanishi and Takayuki Kanamori each threw a scoreless inning as the Fighters out-hit the visitors 12-8 on the night.
Nippon-Ham closer Hisashi Takeda, who led the PL with 34 saves this season, retired Alex Ramirez, Yoshitomo Tani and Shinnosuke Abe to pick up the save Sunday, although Kamei singled off him after narrowly missing his second home run of the night when he pulled one just foul.
Lefty Utsumi took the loss, giving up four runs on eight hits over just 2 2/3 innings.
Itoi had three hits on the night for the Hammies, a pair of singles and his RBI double.
The Fighters last won the Japan Series in 2006 under manager Trey Hillman. The Giants won the last of their 20 NPB titles in 2002.