OSAKA — Playing with his team’s season on the line, Takashi Toritani rose to the occasion.
Now he and the rest of the Hanshin Tigers get to do it all over again.
Toritani homered twice and Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi delivered a quality start as the Tigers staved off elimination by defeating the Chunichi Dragons 7-3 in Game 2 of the first stage of the Central League Climax Series in front of a raucous crowd on Sunday night at Kyocera Dome.
“Before the game, we all knew this was a do-or-die situation and were determined to score first and then keep the lead throughout the game,” Toritani said.
The Hanshin shortstop hit a three-run homer in the first and crushed hopes of a rally with a solo shot in the sixth to ensure Hanshin’s season would play at least one more day.
“When I hit the first home run, I wasn’t sure if the ball would clear the fence but felt a sense of elation when I saw it go into the stands,” Toritani said.
“On the second home run, I was not trying to hit it out; just trying to get on base but, again, it went out, so I was really happy to help us pad the lead.”
Hanshin’s 40-somethings made their presence felt early as Shimoyanagi opened the game with a 1-2-3 inning, while fellow 40-year-old Tomoaki Kanemoto got the Tigers going with a RBI single in the bottom half of the inning.
Shimoyanagi was handed a 4-0 lead after Toritani’s three-run shot in the first, and allowed two runs on five hits and struck out two over 5 1/3 innings to earn the win.
“Getting that four-run lead right away was huge and gave us the confidence we were going to win tonight,” Tigers manager Akinobu Okada said.
Hanshin turned up the intensity in the field as well with third baseman Aarom Baldiris and right fielder Ryo Asai making a couple of leaping catches to make Shimoyanagi’s night easier.
“Shimoyanagi pitched like the veteran he is and got us into the second half of the game with the lead so our bullpen could take over and do their job,” Okada said. “I am looking for more of the same tomorrow from JFK,” he added, referring to relief trio Jeff Williams, Tomoyuki Kubota and Kyuji Fujikawa.
The Tigers dominated the Dragons during the regular season, going 17-6, before stumbling to a loss in the series opener. They responded with a strong night at the plate behind a four-run first inning and three-run third.
“This is the best I’ve felt in about a month,” Okada said. “We knew this would be our last game this season if we lost, so I was ready to do whatever it took to make sure we came away with the victory.”
Their big night sends the series to a deciding Game 3.
The winner will advance to the second stage where the Yomiuri Giants will be waiting with a one-game advantage (awarded to the league champion) and homefield advantage.
“I just hope we can win tomorrow, go to Tokyo Dome and get revenge on the Giants,” Toritani said.
The Giants erased a 13-game deficit late in the season to snatch the CL pennant away from the Tigers.
Chunichi starter Chen Wei Yin had a rough outing after giving up four runs in the first. Dragons shortstop Hirokazu Ibata got his team on the board with an RBI single in the second to make it 4-1. Chunichi cut the lead in half on Masahiko Morino’s leadoff homer in the sixth.
Hanshin countered in the bottom half of the inning on Toritani’s homer to right before scoring two more runs to take a commanding 7-2 lead.
Tyrone Woods pulled the Dragons within four runs with a home run in the eighth that ended the scoring.