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Giants move to brink of series glory

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TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — The Yomiuri Giants vowed they would be ready for Lions starter Hideaki Wakui the next time they saw him.

It took a while, but they made good on that promise in the end.

Ryota Wakiya drove in the go-ahead run with a two-run triple in the seventh during a four-run inning and brought the Giants within a win of the Japan Series title after a 7-3 victory over the Seibu Lions on Thursday night at Seibu Dome.

Alex Ramirez started the seventh with some heads-up base running, after his liner bounced off second base, to record a double with one out and the Giants behind 2-1. The next batter, Shinnosuke Abe, drove him in with a game-tying single.

“As soon as the ball hit the base I thought that I had a chance,” Ramirez said. “I thought it was the right decision at the time. I took a chance and I’m glad I did.”

“I heard him,” Ramirez said referring to the Giants’ first base coach telling him to stop at first. “That’s a decision I decided to make by myself. I thought I had a chance and something needed to be done and I took a chance.”

Yoshiyuki Kamei continued his strong postseason output with a deep double that put runners at second and third to set the table for Wakiya. The Giants third baseman responded with a triple to left that drove in two runs and gave the Giants the lead.

Shortstop Hayato Sakamoto made up for an earlier error with an RBI double later in the inning to drive Wakui out of the game.

Abe’s contributions had to be a welcome sign for the Giants. The Yomiuri captain injured his shoulder late in the regular season and has been unable to perform his normal duties as catcher.

Limited to pinch hit situations at home and the role of designated hitter on the road, Abe showed why the team so desperately wanted him on the field in any capacity. Abe finished 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs.

“I can’t play defense so I wanted to make the most of my chance to serve as DH and hit fifth behind Ramirez,” Abe said.

The win gives the Giants a 3-2 advantage in the best-of-seven series.

It also likely takes some of the sting out of a tough loss in Game 1. Wakui won the series opener after holding the Giants to one hit through eight innings and allowing just an earned run while striking out eight.

Wakui started strong in the fifth game, having allowed just one run entering the seventh inning and looking like a safe bet to notch his fourth win of the postseason.

Everything changed when Ramirez’s sharply hit ball ricocheted off the second base bag to help set up the Giants’ big inning.

Wakui took the loss after allowing five runs on seven hits with six strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.

“He pitched a great game today,” Ramirez said. “I was thinking we were not going to have many chances.”

Koji Uehara, making what could be his final start for the Giants, allowed two runs — one earned — on seven hits and struck out four in three innings. He did not factor into the decision.

The Giants star made his intentions of a move to the major leagues clear early in the season, meaning his NPB career could be at an end.

Yomiuri reliever Kentaro Nishimura earned the win after 1 1/3 innings of work.

Seibu’s Yasuyuki Kataoka, Takumi Kuriyama and Hiroyuki Nakajima led off the game with singles to load the bases with none out in the first inning. Uehara struck out the next batter, Takeya Nakamura, but Yoshihito Ishii’s force out at second drove in a run to make the score 1-0.

The Giants struck back in the second on Abe’s game-tying home run to deep center.

Nakajima hit what looked to be a routine grounder to Sakamoto with one away in the third. The Yomiuri shortstop’s throw was too high for first baseman Michihiro Ogasawara to handle, however, allowing Nakajima to advance to second.

Ishii made the Giants pay almost immediately, lining the very next pitch into right field for an RBI single. That gave the Lions the lead before the Giants stormed back in the seventh.

Yoshitomo Tani gave the Giants an insurance run with a pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth. Yomiuri went up 7-2 after Takahiro Suzuki successfully executed a suicide squeeze to score Lee Seung Yeop.

Lions second baseman Hiroshi Hirao homered in the ninth to end the scoring.

The two clubs will have a day off before the Series shifts back to Tokyo Dome, where the Giants will try to win the title on their home field.

“We were fortunate to go 2-1 here on the road and I think we can win it at Tokyo Dome in front of our home fans,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.

Game 6 is scheduled to begin at 6:15 on Saturday.