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CENTRAL LEAGUE CLIMAX SERIES

Dragons earn return trip to Japan Series

by Jason Coskrey

The Yomiuri Giants won the Central League title but the Chunichi Dragons are going to the Japan Series.

News photoDragons slugger Tyrone Woods watches his home run fly into the right-field bleachers in the fourth inning
against Yomiuri in Game 3 of the Central League Climax Series’ second stage at Tokyo Dome on Saturday.
With a 4-2 win, Chunichi swept the Giants and clinched a Japan Series berth for the second straight year.
KYODO PHOTO

Tyrone Woods hit the go-ahead home run and starter Kenichi Nakata pitched seven-plus innings as the Dragons advanced to the Japan Series with a 4-2 win in Game 3 of the second stage of the Central League Climax Series on Saturday night in front of 46,081 fans at Tokyo Dome.

With the fans chanting his name after the game, Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai accepted the Central League championship trophy for the third time in four seasons.

“I can’t take much credit,” Ochiai said. “It was the players that deserve the praise.”

Woods gave the Dragons a 3-1 lead in the fourth with a three-run shot off Yomiuri starter Hisanori Takahashi to lead Chunichi to its second straight appearance in the Japanese version of the Fall Classic. The home run was Woods’ second of the series and third of the postseason.

“This was a tough game,” Ochiai said. “It was even more difficult because we did not win the regular-season (title), so we were challengers in the Climax Series.”

Chunichi finished behind Yomiuri in the regular season standings but won five straight in the playoffs, sweeping the Hanshin Tigers 2-0 and the Giants 3-0 to win the CL’s first-ever Climax Series championship.

Nakata gave up two runs on six hits and struck out 11 over 7 2/3 to pick up the win. He pitched himself into and out of a few jams and was able to keep the Dragons in the game. Closer Hitoki Iwase took over in the eighth and picked up the final four outs to earn the save.

“It was a struggle, but I tried to go as long as I could,” Nakata said. “I knew our bullpen would be ready to pick me up.”

The Dragons will face the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in a rematch of last season’s Japan Series beginning Oct. 27 at Sapporo Dome. Nippon Ham beat Chunichi in five games to win the 2006 title.

This will be Chunichi’s fourth Japan Series appearance in the last nine years, but the Dragons will be looking for their first title since 1954.

“We’re going to the Japan Series as the Central League representative even though the Giants won the league,” Ochiai said. “We’ll be looking for revenge against the Fighters.”

Woods also made his presence felt in the bottom half of the fourth. With Giants first baseman Lee Seung Yeop at the plate, Nakata threw him a pitch up and in. Lee, apparently angered by the pitch, exchanged words with Woods.

The two began to approach each other as the shouting match escalated and had to be restrained as both benches spilled onto the field. The Giants and Dragons supporters then took turns booing Woods and Lee, respectively, during their subsequent plate appearances.

Motonobu Tanishige added a homer in seventh to extend the Chunichi lead to 4-2. Tanishige has been on fire in the postseason, going 10-for-19 with five RBIs in five games. He finished 7-for-12 with four RBIs against the Giants.

Facing elimination, Yomiuri sent Takahashi to the mound in hopes of forcing a Game 4. Takahashi had a decent outing but gave up both Chunichi homers and was charged with all four runs on six hits over seven innings.

Takahashi started strong and retired the first 10 batters he faced before hitting Hirokazu Ibata with a pitch in the fourth inning. Ibata had to leave the field for a few moments to receive treatment in the Chunichi dugout, but remained in the game.

Masahiko Morino followed with a single up the middle to give the Dragons runners on first and second with one away and Woods at the plate. The Chunichi slugger responded by sending a 3-2 pitch into the right-field seats to give the Dragons a 3-1 lead.

In the bottom of the fourth, Michihiro Ogasawara lined an RBI single off the right-field wall to pull Yomiuri within one.

The Giants got the tying run to third with two outs during the inning, but Nakata struck out Ryota Wakiya to preserve the lead.