The Yomiuri Giants won the Central League pennant last season but failed to reach the Japan Series.
Offseason addition Alex Ramirez helped make sure they got things right this time around.
Ramirez hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning to drive in the go-ahead runs as the CL Champion Giants defeated the Chunichi Dragons 6-2 to punch their ticket to the Japan Series in front of 46,797 fans on Saturday night at Tokyo Dome.
“It was a tough year with the pennant race and the (Hanshin) Tigers and the Dragons in the Climax Series,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “But our team of outstanding players came through in the end, and I couldn’t be happier.”
After watching the Dragons tie the game in the top of the eighth, Ramirez pounced on Akifumi Takahashi’s first-pitch fastball, sending it over the wall in left-center.
“In the at-bat before when I had runners on first and second, they threw me a fastball on the first pitch for a strike and I hit a foul ball,” Ramirez said. “In that at-bat, I said he was going to try to throw me another fast one inside and I’m not going to try to hit it the other way, I’m going to try to pull it.
“He threw me a good pitch and I didn’t miss. I was happy that I was thinking the right way.”
Ramirez was named MVP of the series and may well add the CL MVP to his collection when the league awards are announced following the Japan Series.
Ramirez was the CL’s best player during the regular season, batting .319 with 45 home runs and led Japanese baseball with 125 RBIs. “Big Daddy” made his presence felt in the playoffs with a .438 average, two homers and five RBIs against the Dragons.
“We’re not done yet,” Ramirez said. “We have to keep on playing the way we’ve been playing and take it to the Japan Series. That’s the final goal.”
The Giants won the CL title last season but were swept out the playoffs by Chunichi.
“We were swept in last year’s Climax Series by the Dragons and the players were well aware of that,” Hara said. “I think because we had the same matchup this time, it helped motivate us.”
Yomiuri lost the first game of this year’s series but rebounded to win the best-of-seven series 3-1-1.
Yomiuri entered the series with a one-game advantage as the CL champion and would have advanced if the teams finished the series with the same number of wins, due to the tiebreaker rules.
The Giants ended a six-year drought between Japan Series appearances with the win and will meet the PL Champion Seibu Lions in Japan’s version of the Fall Classic.
Hara led the Kyojin to a four-game sweep of the Lions — then managed by current Giants head coach Haruki Ihara — in Yomiuri’s last Japan Series appearance in 2002.
“The Lions-Giants pairing should make for a most interesting Japan Series,” Hara said. “We look forward to facing Seibu and expect to come out on top.”
The Giants tossed their manager in the air in a traditional doage celebration following the final out.
“I didn’t expect a doage because I told the players to wait until we win the Japan Series,” Hara said. “But they did it anyway. I appreciate their gesture.”
Giants starter Hisanori Takahashi walked on the edge for most of the night but kept the damage to a minimum. Takahashi allowed one run on five hits and struck out three but did not factor into the decision.
With Takahashi out of the game the Dragons mounted a rally in the eighth inning against reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi, who gave up a pair of singles and a sacrifice bunt.
Daisuke Ochi inherited Yamaguchi’s mess after the Yomiuri reliever was taken out with runners on the corners, one out and Tyrone Woods, who hit his fifth playoff home run earlier in the game, at the plate.
Woods almost gave the Dragons the lead with a deep ball to right that hooked foul, then tied the game 2-2 with a sacrifice fly.
Chen Wei Yin allowed two runs on four hits and struck out two for Chunichi and did not factor into the decision.
The Dragons reached the Climax Series after a late-season surge helped them outlast the Hiroshima Carp in a tight battle for third place in the CL.
Chunichi reached the second stage of the playoffs after traveling to Osaka and leaving with a surprising 2-1 series victory over the second-place Tigers.
Trailing 2-1-1 in their series against Yomiuri and needing to win three straight games to advance to a third consecutive Japan Series, the Dragons ran into trouble in the fourth inning.
With runners on first and second Tani hit an RBI double down the left-field line off starter Chen to break a scoreless tie.
Hayato Sakamoto followed with a run scoring single of his own and the Giants could have had more, but Tani was thrown out at the plate while trying to score from second.
Chunichi slugger Tyrone Woods gave them a ray of light in the fifth with a homer to left to make it 2-1.