The fight is on.
The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters needed a win in Game 2 of the Japan Series on Sunday and they hit the Yomiuri Giants with their best shot: Yu Darvish.
The heroic ace, who hadn't pitched in 42 days, came to the rescue as the Fighters evened the Series with a 4-2 win before 40,718 at Sapporo Dome.
Darvish was not the hard-throwing dominant 2007 Sawamura Award winner because of an assortment of ailments, that included a sore back and shoulder fatigue, sidelined him in the second half of the season. In fact, he was more like a right-handed version of Nippon Ham Game 1 starter Masaru Takeda, using a lot of offspeed pitches to keep the Giants off balance.
But he made a smooth transition to the crafty-veteran type, tossing six innings and allowing two runs on three six and no walks with seven strikeouts.
"This was the best game I've ever pitched," said the fifth-year hurler, who was backed by a four-run fourth inning capped by Yoshio Itoi's two-run double, the second of his three hits.
"You could see from the way I was throwing that I was far from my normal self. I couldn't bend my back like I usually do, and if tried to overthrow, I had some pain.
"But in the bullpen, I decided that I needed to use offspeed pitches to go after the Giants, and they seemed to have trouble with them."
Said Fighters skipper Masataka Nashida: "He was trying to make sure not to aggravate his injuries while pitching, and for him to throw as well as this in a real game--in which there was a lot of pressure--is amazing.
"He made me think even more of him."
The Giants had seven hits overall but looked pretty much feeble.
"We had an idea that Darvish would throw and we were ready. But the lineup just didn't string hits together or create a lot of chances," Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara said.
"The players did well to take the Series back to Tokyo Dome even, and we'll go after them there."
Darvish's mere presence seemed to light up the Fighters, who couldn't afford to drop the first two games at home before playing the next three at Tokyo Dome, starting on Tuesday.
Darvish worked into a bases-loaded jam and had to face former Fighter teammate Michihiro Ogasawara with two outs in the fifth. The righty fired one fastball in the sequence, which he finished off by striking out the Giants slugger with a curve.
Lefty Naoki Miyanishi and righty Takayuki Kanamori set up Hisashi Takeda with two perfect innings, and the Nippon Ham closer worked a scoreless ninth to close it out.
Inaba sparked a two-out outburst with a solo blast on the eighth pitch of his at-bat off Yomiuri starter Tetsuya Utsumi.
He stayed back on a low offspeed pitch and whacked it just over the fence in right for a 1-0 Fighters lead.
"Darvish was pitching and I just wanted to go up and do what I could to get on base. It just turned out to be the best possible result," Inaba said.
The Fighters fed off that shot as Shinji Takahashi followed by lining a shot off the wall in center for his second double of the Series.
Utsumi got ahead on Nippon Ham's hottest hitter, Terrmel Sledge, who locked in on a high fastball and laced it the opposite way to left for an RBI single and a 2-0 lead.
Eiichi Koyano's grounder up the middle went for an infield single, and Itoi followed with a double to right to boost the lead to 4-0.
"We had a good rally going with two outs and I didn't want to be the one to break the rhythm," said Itoi, who singled in his first at-bat. "I had to come through there."
That was the end of the night for Utsumi, who allowed four runs on eight hits in just 2-2/3 innings.
"I felt like I had good stuff," said Utsumi, who left off the roster in Stage 2 of the Central League Climax Series. "In the third inning, I made some mistakes, and while they were not good pitches, you have to give credit to the Fighters. They didn't miss them."
The Giants, though, mounted a two-rally of their own.
After a pair of groundouts, Alex Ramirez lined a single to left to keep the inning alive, and Yoshiyuki Kamei made Darvish pay for a misplaced fastball. The No. 5 batter's first hit of the Series was a home run down the line in left to shave the Fighters' lead to two.
Right-hander Shun Tono, who took over for Utsumi, worked 3-1/3 scoreless innings, allowing three hits and a walks while fanning four to keep the Giants close.
Tono, considered a possible starter in the Series, escaped a pair of two-on, one-out jams before leaving.