The Nippon Ham Fighters evened the Japan Series at two games apiece in a come-from-behind 3-1 Game 4 win over the Hiroshima Carp on Wednesday.
Before 40,599 at Sapporo Dome, Brandon Laird’s second home run of the series, a two-out, two-run shot in the eighth off right-hander Jay Jackson, broke a 1-1 tie for Nippon Ham’s biggest lead of the series yet.
Sho Nakata, who tied the game at one in the sixth with his first home run of the series, drew a seven-pitch, one-out walk and was on first when Laird connected on a 1-2 pitch from Jackson.
“You know, just get a good pitch I can hit,” Laird said of facing Hiroshima’s setup man. “Jackson’s a good pitcher. He’s got a good slider and I was just hoping he made a mistake and, you know, I didn’t try to do too much and I put a good swing on it.”
“It felt great. I know I hit it good, but I was just hoping it got over the fence and once I saw it go over and heard you guys cheer, it was unbelievable feeling.”
Laird said he had been exasperated by his previous three trips to the plate.
“There were some calls that could have gone either way, and I was frustrated,” Laird said. “I had to take care of that myself.”
Jackson credited Laird for making the most of his mistake.
“I was throwing some pretty good pitches, but that was the one I made a mistake on,” said Jackson. “It didn’t move as much as I wanted it to and he took advantage of it.”
Veteran lefty Naoki Miyanishi ended the game by striking out No. 3 hitter Yoshihiro Maru with the bases loaded to earn the save, in place of injured closer Chris Martin.
Carp starter Akitake Okada stranded six base runners through three scoreless innings before Hiroshima broke the ice against fellow rookie Hirotoshi Takanashi, who was having as much trouble locating his pitches as the Carp were making hard contact on them.
Takanashi walked one batter each in the second and third, and two more in the fourth, when the Carp scored without a hit. Although the leadoff runner was caught stealing, Brad Eldred’s two-out sky-high popup brought a run home when the Fighters couldn’t decide who should catch it.
Three fielders converged but center fielder Hiromi Oka neglected to take charge. As the trio stood and watched, right fielder Kensuke Kondo raced in to try and make a desperate catch but failed, and was charged with an error.
Okada appeared to have a rhythm going after escaping a two-out, two-on jam in the third and retired seven straight batters. That ended with his first pitch of the sixth inning, however.
Trying to throw a low slider, Okada hung it, and cleanup hitter Nakata made him pay by hitting it into the left-field bleachers.
“They’d been attacking me that way, so I was looking for a slider,” Nakata said.
Although Okada was constantly under pressure through the first three innings, he was the first Carp pitcher in the series to shut down the Fighters’ biggest threat, pitcher-designated hitter Shohei Otani, retiring the left-handed-hitting slugger all three times he faced him.
Otani, who had five hits so far, went 0-for-4, lowering his batting average in the series to .417.
Okada allowed a run on four hits, three walks and six strikeouts over six innings. Takeru Imamura worked a scoreless seventh for Hiroshima.
Takanashi left after five, having walked five, allowed two hits and an unearned run while striking out two. He was replaced by right-hander Anthony Bass.
The winning pitcher in Tuesday’s 4-3 comeback victory, Bass worked two scoreless innings. Keisuke Tanimoto worked a scoreless eighth that ended with a base runner caught stealing at second.
Oka made up for his earlier mental mistake with a tremendous leaping catch against the wall to rob pinch hitter Tetsuya Kokubo of a one-out, extra-base hit. But a two-out walk and singles by Kosuke Tanaka and Ryosuke Kikuchi loaded the bases before Miyanishi slammed the door shut.
Game 5 will be at Sapporo Dome on Thursday, when Fighters rookie Takayuki Kato will take the mound against Sawamura Award-winning lefty Kris Johnson.
The series will move back to Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium for Game 6 on Saturday.