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Baseball: Cuban imports help Hawks tie Japan Series

Ariel Miranda pitched five innings and Alfredo Despaigne drove in four runs as a quartet of Cuban imports helped lift the SoftBank Hawks to a 9-8 win over the Hiroshima Carp in Japan Series Game 3.

Following Game 1’s 2-2 tie, the win at Yafuoku Dome by the Pacific League’s Hawks tied up the series at 1-1-1 against the Central League’s Hiroshima Carp.

Miranda (1-0), a former Seattle Mariner, started and allowed three runs over five innings, while Despaigne scored twice and drove in four runs, three on a sixth-inning homer that appeared to put the game out of reach.

Despaigne, an outfielder used almost exclusively as a designated hitter, pinch hit and drove in a run in Game 1, but his fielding limitations when playing left field in Game 2, helped Hiroshima take an early lead.

Fellow Cubans, third baseman Yurisbel Gracial and reliever Livan Moinelo, also chipped in. Gracial reached base twice and scored twice, while Moinelo got the Hawks out of a sixth-inning jam to protect a one-run lead.

Despaigne’s home run in the bottom of the sixth gave the Hawks an 8-3 lead, but the Carp hit four homers, two each by Seiya Suzuki and Tomohiro Abe. The Carp No. 9 hitter’s eighth-inning grand slam made it a one-run game again.

«My teammates rallied after two were out to give me a chance to hit,» Despaigne said. «I was just looking for a strike I could hit.»

(Hawks’ Miranda)

The Hawks, the defending series champs, took their first lead in the series in the fourth inning. Starting pitcher Allen Kuri issued two one-out walks, Akira Nakamura and Kenta Imamiya each singled in a run.

«I hadn’t hit so far in the series, so I needed to do something,» Nakamura said. «Our opponents are really strong, and frankly, I went up with the attitude that I was up there to test myself against players competing at a higher level.»

Abe, whose sharp fielding at third base had defused a potential first-inning Hawks rally, halved SoftBank’s lead in the fifth with a solo home run off Miranda.

The Hawks, however, added two more runs in the fifth. Singles by Seiji Uebayashi and Gracial put runners on the corners with one out. Carp first baseman Alejandro Mejia tried to start a double play but a run scored on his errant throw to second.

Kuri (0-1) came out of the game, and a run scored on a groundout against the new pitcher, Johnny Hellweg. The right-hander loaded the bases with a pair of two-out walks, but allowed no further damage.

Kuri, who was coming off four straight solid starts, allowed four runs, three earned, on six hits and two walks, while striking out four.

Once more, the Carp answered, Suzuki opening the visitors’ sixth with a solo shot. Ryuhei Matsuyama followed with his second straight hit. Rookie submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi struck out slugging pinch hitter Xavier Batista, but gave up singles to Takayoshi Noma and Tsubasa Aizawa.

The Hawks went to the bullpen for a lefty to pitch to Abe, and Moinelo got a double play groundball to preserve SoftBank’s 4-3 lead.

The Carp, however, ran into a four-run buzz saw after Akitake Okada retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the sixth.

Singles by Kenji Akashi and Gracial opened the door and a run came in when cleanup hitter Yuki Yanagita chopped an infield single to third. Despaigne followed by driving a 1-1 fastball out to right center.

«He’s in good form, hitting the ball out to the opposite field,» Hawks batting coach Yoshiie Tachibana said.

SoftBank skipper Kimiyasu Kudo said Despaigne’s home run electrified the Hawks.

«That home run changed the mood on the bench,» he said. «When Despaigne hit, the mood changed and we felt we were going to win this. What a relief this was.»

«Now that we’re back at Yafuoku Dome, we are showing everyone what the Hawks are really about.»

The Hawks added a run in the seventh on a home run by reserve catcher Hiroaki Takuya, but it didn’t deter a Hiroshima comeback in the eighth, when Suzuki and Abe each went deep again.

Suzuki led off against Ren Kajiya with his second home run of the game. After two one-out singles and a walk, Abe lined an 0-1 breaking ball into the home run terrace in right for his grand slam.

«You just can’t go down easily,» said Suzuki, who also singled in the ninth to put the tying run on base. «We went up there to take a bite out of them. If you just roll over, you’re going to hand them the momentum.»

The Carp again threatened in the ninth against Yuito Mori, but the right-hander worked around a pair of singles to preserve the win.

«We know this is going to be a tough fight,» Carp manager Koichi Ogata said. «Our concentration level was really high. We’re going to come back out tomorrow and play our brand of baseball.»

All — Kyodo News+

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