As Game 2 starter Hisanori Takahashi left the mound in the middle of the sixth inning of a 2-2 contest on Sunday, things were looking bleak for the Yomiuri Giants.
With Lions baserunners on first and second and playoff hero Hiroyuki Nakajima at the plate, it seemed like the perfect recipe for disaster.
Until Kentaro Nishimura saved the day.
Nishimura retired Nakajima then proceeded to retire the next four batters he faced in the sixth and seventh.
He was relieved by Daisuke Ochi, who retired all six batters he faced over the final two innings to keep the Giants in the game long enough for Alex Ramirez to win it with a sayonara home run.
Those 3 2/3 innings proved to be crucial for the Giants, who now head to Seibu Dome with the series knotted at 1-1, instead of facing a 2-0 hole.
“Evening the series makes a big difference,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “Obviously this was a big win for us and we feel refreshed and will go to Seibu Dome taking it one game at a time.”
It may not have ended so well without the two young Yomiuri relievers.
Nishimura saw a lot of action early in the year before shoulder fatigue began to derail his season. He made his last regular season appearance on Aug. 15 before being dropped to the ni-gun squad on Aug. 20.
He’s been Yomiuri’s Mr. Fix-it since his return, often inheriting other pitchers’ messes and finding a way to wiggle out of trouble with runners on base. He has yet to give up a run in 4 2/3 innings in the playoffs.
Ochi was a Yomiuri constant during the regular season, finishing 3-3 with 10 holds and a 2.39 ERA in 68 appearances.
It’s been more of the same during the playoffs as Ochi has posted a win and two holds in 5 2/3 scoreless innings.
The Giants know what to expect out of their starting rotation and closer Marc Kroon. So it’s probably comforting for Hara to know he can count on his two young relievers in pressure situations when the starters head for the showers.
“Ochi and Nishimura were good,” Hara said. “If you consider we have a number of games left, it’s good to know that they can pitch well.
“It symbolized our season and our team this year,” Hara said of their late-inning performance. “They’re still developing during this series. It’s really promising.”
Ouch: When the Seibu Lions pitchers come inside it’s painful . . . for the Yomiuri Giants.
The Lions had the Giants feeling the hurt on Sunday night, hitting a Japan Series-record four batters during their Game 2 loss.
Seibu starter Kazuyuki Hoashi plunked a pair of hitters (Yoshitomo Tani and Hayato Sakamoto) while relievers Tomoki Hoshino and Chikara Onodera each threw one deadball (hitting Noriyoshi Omichi and Michihiro Ogasawara respectively).
“I don’t think they were manager (Hisanobu) Watanabe’s instruction,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “Though, four hit-by-pitches don’t give you a good impression.”
The Lions also hit a batter in Game 1 with starter Hideaki Wakui nailing Takuya Kimura.
Day of firsts: Friday’s Game 1 victory represented a day of firsts for two current Lions pitchers and one of the franchise’s former star hurlers.
Making his first championship-round appearance, at any level, Seibu closer Alex Graman worked a scoreless ninth to earn his first career Japan Series save.
“I don’t get too many chances to do things like that,” said Graman, who remarked he had reached the postseason only once in his baseball career. “I’m just happy to get that first one out of the way.”
His milestone didn’t come easy after giving up a hit to the first batter of the inning, leaving him facing the Giants 3-4 hitters, Michihiro Ogasawara and Alex Ramirez.
A brilliant defensive play by second baseman Yasuyuki Kataoka helped Graman retire Ogasawara and he got Ramirez to hit into a game-ending double play to preserve the Seibu’s tight 2-1 win.
“I was just trying to keep the ball down,” Graman said. “I didn’t care if I was bouncing pitches. I just knew if I got the ball up, they were going to hit it out of here.”
Seibu starter Hideaki Wakui also won in his Japan Series debut and former pitching star and current manager Hisanobu Watanabe won his first Series contest as a manager.
“It feels great to get my first Japan Series win as a manager,” Watanabe said. “I’ve won as a player and now know how it feels to direct a victory from the bench.”
Saving the best for last: Alex Ramirez gave the Giants a win in dramatic fashion with a game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2.
“I was looking for something in the strike zone that I could hit in the air because I had been hitting ground balls all day,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez’s solo drive Sunday represented the fifth time in Giants history the Kyojin have won a Japan Series game with a sayonara home run. It was the ninth time overall Yomiuri has won a Series game in its final at-bat.
“He won the game for us with just one big swing,” Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara said. “It was huge for both him and the team.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report