Ramirez strikes late to level Japan Series


Not many players can put on a show quite like the Yomiuri Giants’ Alex Ramirez.

The Giants cleanup hitter cranked a sayonara home run with one out in the ninth to lead the Giants to a 3-2 victory over the Seibu Lions in Game 2 of the Japan Series in front of 44,814 fans on Sunday night at Tokyo Dome.

“This game was huge for us,” Ramirez said. “We gotta give credit to our pitching staff. They did a great job for us today.”

Ramirez had been 1-for-4 before his game-winning hit, but went into his final at-bat confident.

“I never put my head down,” Ramirez said. “I always believe that it’s not how you start, It’s how you finish.”

Ramirez’s heroics helped the Giants avoid falling into a 2-0 hole in the series heading into Game 3 Tuesday night.

There was a scary moment for the Giants when Michihiro Ogasawara was hit with a pitch leading off the seventh. Ogasawara received treatment and returned to the game, but was taken out for a pinch runner later in the inning.

Ogasawara was also hit during Game 4 of the second stage of the Central League Climax Series against the Chunichi Dragons. Ramirez also provided the game-winning homer in that contest shortly after his teammate was injured.

“The same thing happened last time,” Ramirez said referring to the CLCS. “I wanted to get a home run right after he got hit but it didn’t happen. Sometimes things don’t happen the way you want them to happen.”

“I wanted to do something,” Ramirez said. “I left a lot of men on base and I needed to do something today. So I’m glad I did.”

The Lions had held Ramirez to just one hit in the series before his late-inning heroics.

“They’ve been pitching me good in the first two games,” Ramirez said. “I guess I have to change my mentality a little bit more.”

As was the case in the first game, there weren’t a lot of offensive fireworks from two of Japanese baseball’s best lineups.

Seibu got three hits but benefited from Nakajima’s opportune two-run shot. All four of Seibu’s runs in the series have come from home runs.

Meanwhile the Giants finished with a respectable number of hits (eight) but constantly ended innings by leaving runners on base.

Lions starter Kazuyuki Hoashi had a decent outing, showing impressive escapability at times, but did not factor into the decision.

Hoashi gave up one run and struck out two in five innings on an up-and-down night that also saw him walk three and hit two batters.

“He pitched a great game today,” Ramirez said. “He had everything going for him. I was glad that they took him out of the game. Because the way he was pitching was pretty good.”

Hoashi pitched himself into a rough spot in the fifth after allowing a one-out single to Takuya Kimura and a double to Ogasawara. Hoashi retired the next batter, Ramirez, but walked Lee Seung Yeop to load the bases with two away.

The Seibu bench then breathed a sigh of relief as Hoashi ended the threat by getting Yoshitomo Tani to ground out to end the inning.

Yomiuri’s Hisanori Takahashi delivered another strong postseason start for the Giants but was a victim of a lack of run support.

Takahashi allowed two runs on three hits and struck out three in 5 1/3 innings. He retired the first nine batters he faced before running into trouble in the fourth and eventually giving up Nakajima’s homer.

“He’s been on a roll,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “I believe he’s going to pitch one more time at least.”

Yomiuri took an early lead for the second consecutive day, going ahead 1-0 on Kazunari Tsuruoka’s sacrifice fly to right in the second inning.

Lions second baseman Yasuyuki Kataoka led off the fourth with a double down the left-field line that narrowly stayed fair. That set the stage for Hiroyuki Nakajima, who launched a 128 kph changeup into the throng of Seibu supporters in the left-field stands.

The Giants pulled even in the sixth when Yoshiyuki Kamei connected on an RBI double off reliever Koji Onuma to score Hayato Sakamoto from second.

The two teams will have an off day on Monday before the series shifts to Seibu Dome in Tokorozawa, Saitama Pref., for Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, Game 5.

“Of course my goal is to go there and win the first game,” Ramirez said. “That’s the most important one. If we win the first game that means at least we’re coming back here to Tokyo. That’s what we’re looking for.”