Not too long ago, Yomiuri Giants pitcher Wirfin Obispo was what is known in Japanese baseball as a “triple-digit” (developmental) player.
Having shed that label, the Giants’ surprise star helped move the Kyojin’s quest for another Central League title into single digits.
Alex Ramirez and Yoshitomo Tani homered, while Obispo’s night was highlighted by a four-strikeout sixth inning as the Giants beat the Hanshin Tigers 4-2 in front of 40,921 fans at Tokyo Dome.
“Obispo did a great job for us tonight so I went with him for seven innings,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “There was no reason to take him out before that.”
The win moves the Giants closer to claiming their third consecutive CL title. Yomiuri’s win trimmed the magic number to win the pennant to nine.
“We’re taking it one game, one day at a time,” Hara said. “We will try to reduce the magic number every day.”
Obispo, a native of the Dominican Republic, became a developmental player for the Giants last season and was given a uniform number in the triple digits. He was given a regular contract this season and now wears jersey No. 91.
Obispo showed good form on the farm early in the season and has been impressive in his 12 appearances with the top team.
“Whenever I put on the Giants uniform, I feel proud and do my best whether it’s here or on the farm team,” he said.
Obispo (4-1) started strong until running into trouble after yielding a pair of one-out singles in the third inning. He didn’t respond well to the jam, walking the next two batters to give up his first run of the game. The 24-year-old allowed another run later in the inning.
The Giants starter was dialed in again in the sixth, striking out Takashi Toritani, Tomoaki Kanemoto and Takahiro Arai in order, though Arai reached first base on a passed ball. Obispo then struck out Lin Wei-chu with a 148-km fastball, ending a nine-pitch at-bat with his fourth punchout of the inning.
“I made some good pitches and some not-so-good pitches tonight,” Obispo said. “I guess I made more good ones than bad ones.”
Obispo threw seven innings in the win, allowing a pair of runs and striking out seven. Tetsuya Yamaguchi threw a scoreless eighth and Marc Kroon closed out the game in the ninth for his 24th save of the season.
Ramirez extended his hitting streak to nine games with a tiebreaking solo homer in the third and Tani hit his eighth of the season to help the Giants avoid being swept by the suddenly surging Tigers.
“It’s a good feeling any time we beat the Tigers,” Tani said. “But especially tonight because we lost the first two games of the series.”
The Tigers’ playoff hopes remained in doubt with the loss. Third-place Hanshin is clinging to a slim lead over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows for the final spot in the CL Climax Series.
Hanshin hurler Yasutomo Kubo allowed four runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings of work. Kubo (7-8) hasn’t recorded a win since Aug. 20 and lost his third straight decision.
Kubo hit the Giants’ first batter of the game, Hayato Sakamoto, putting the leadoff man on first.
Tetsuya Matsumoto followed by laying down a sacrifice bunt toward third base, hoping to move Sakamoto to second. The strategy worked better than expected as Sakamoto made the heads-up decision to round second and head for the uncovered third base bag.
Michihiro Ogasawara then drove in the game’s first run with a single to right. The Giants plated another run later in the inning on an RBI single from Tani to take a two-run lead.
The Tigers loaded the bases in the third on one-out singles from Kubo and Ryo Asai and a walk drawn by Keiichi Hirano. Toritani drew a bases-loaded walk, giving Hanshin its first run and the Tigers tied the score on a sacrifice fly by Kanemoto.
Ramirez homered in the bottom half of the third and Tani’s homer gave the Kyojin an extra cushion in the sixth.
“My home run in the sixth gave us an important insurance run after Obispo fought hard in the top of the inning,” Tani said. “So it was good I could support him.”
Visit The Japan Times’ Web site for a roundup of Thursday’s other Nippon Professional Baseball games.