Facing odds that reeked of unfairness, the Chunichi Dragons couldn’t have scripted a better beginning to the second stage of the Central League Climax Series.
A five-run first inning got the Dragons off to a blazing start, and the Yomiuri Giants watched their one-game advantage go up in smoke during a 7-2 Chunichi win in Game 1 in front of a crowd of 41,259 on Wednesday night at Tokyo Dome.
Hirokazu Ibata led off the game with a hit and Masahiko Morino and Kazuhiro Wada each drove in runs before Kei Nomoto blew the game open with a three-run homer in the first.
“We’re off to a great start,” Nomoto said. “We knew we had to come out swinging against (Dicky) Gonzalez. It was good we got the jump on him in the first inning.”
The Dragons’ Tony Blanco put an exclamation point on the proceedings with a towering solo blast to left field in the third.
The offensive outburst helped Chunichi, which will play the entire second stage on the road, avoid a 2-0 hole in the series. The Dragons faced an uphill battle from the start as the Giants were awarded an automatic one-game advantage by virtue of winning the CL pennant.
“That’s very important,” Blanco said. “Because now it’s going to be 1-1. I think it’s going to be good. It’s going to be a tough fight and it’s going to be fun. I hope I enjoy it.”
While Chunichi’s batters were making noise at the plate early, starting pitcher Takashi Ogasawara was busy silencing the dangerous Yomiuri lineup.
Ogasawara gave the Giants an unwanted case of deja vu on the mound, throwing five innings of one-run ball to earn the win.
The left-hander was the Dragons’ surprise starter in the second-stage opener two seasons ago at the Big Egg, yielding one run over five effective innings in a 5-2 victory. Chunichi went on to sweep the Giants en route to winning the Japan Series.
This is the third consecutive season the Dragons have beaten the Giants at Tokyo Dome in the second-stage opener.
“Obviously, the five runs we gave up in the first really hurt,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “We were not able to recover from that and the loss hurts.”
Yomiuri pitcher Gonzalez was 15-2 during the regular season, and 4-0 against Chunichi, but picked a bad time to have his worst start of the year. Gonzalez gave up six runs on seven hits over five innings to lose for the first time at home this year.
“We just tried to make contact and take good swings,” Blanco said. “In baseball, it’s about luck and how you take advantage of the situation.”
Giants reliever Micheal Nakamura lasted just three pitches before being ejected after hitting Blanco in the helmet during the sixth. He was relieved by Takahiko Nomaguchi, who allowed a run that was charged to Nakamura.
Chunichi wasted little time getting things going with Masahiro Araki following Ibata’s first-inning single with a sacrifice bunt that advanced the runner.
Morino then drove in the first run of the game with a single to center field.
Blanco came through with a single and Chunichi took a two-run lead after Kazuhiro Wada hit an RBI single. Nomoto made the score 5-0 with his home run later in the inning.
“I gave it a full swing,” Nomoto said. “I think it was a fastball I hit and I knew it was gone as soon as it left my bat.”
The Giants got on the board in the second courtesy of a Shigeyuki Furuki RBI single.
The Dragons answered with Blanco’s monstrous blast in the third, making the score 6-1. Catcher Motonobu Tanishige drove in another run in the sixth to stretch the lead to six.
Yomiuri’s Lee Seung Yeop saw his first action with the top team since Aug. 1, entering the game as a pinch hitter with runners on first and second. He responded with a run-scoring sacrifice fly, his first RBI since driving in a run against Chunichi on July 29, to make the score 7-2.
The teams will meet in Game 2 of the series on Thursday at Tokyo Dome with the first pitch scheduled for 6 p.m.