Nobody will remember Ryota Wakiya’s first at-bat of the 2009 postseason. It’s the second one that’ll live on in the minds of Yomiuri Giants fans.
Wakiya sent the first pitch he saw screaming toward the wall in right field during the eighth inning, ending up with a go-ahead two-run double that helped put the Yomiuri Giants on the brink of a trip to the Japan Series courtesy of a 5-4 victory over the Chunichi Dragons on Friday at Tokyo Dome.
“Wakiya came through for us with that clutch hit and that turned around the game for us,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.
The win gives the Giants a 3-1 lead in the series and gives them a chance to clinch their second straight Climax Series title with a win on Saturday.
The Giants will be looking to advance to the Japan Series for a second straight season and in search of their first Japan championship since 2002.
“We’ll try to play another game like this and wrap up the series tomorrow,” Hara said.
The Giants faced a two-run deficit when shortstop Hayato Sakamoto led off the eighth with a walk. Tetsuya Matsumoto followed with a hit before Dragons reliever Takuya Asao retired Michihiro Ogasawara and Alex Ramirez.
The next batter, Yoshiyuki Kamei, hit a grounder to shortstop Hirokazu Ibata. The normally reliable Ibata misplayed the ball for an error and extended the inning, which set the table for Wakiya.
“I wasn’t thinking anything special when I went into the batter’s box,” Wakiya said. “But I really felt good when I saw the ball carom off the wall.”
Wakiya is an unlikely hero on a team loaded to the brim with stars. The fourth-year player appeared in just 89 games during the regular season and had just seven doubles among his 62 hits. He has not started in this year’s Climax Series.
“Hara-kantoku told me to be ready,” Wakiya said. “So I practiced hard and prepared so I would be OK coming off the bench.”
Closer Marc Kroon retired the side in the top of the ninth to pick up his second save of the series.
Chunichi pitcher Kazuki Yoshimi started the game under a cloud of suspicion over reported intravenous garlic injections at various points during the season. Getting any type of IV without a stated medical reason is against the NPB’s anti-doping rules.
He lasted six innings and struck out four while allowing two runs. He didn’t factor into the decision. Asao took the loss.
The Dragons got off to a fast start for the third consecutive game. Masahiko Morino had a two-run shot in the first inning. Chunichi has now outscored Yomiuri 9-1 in the opening frame over the first three games of the series.
The Giants fought their way back into the game in the sixth inning on back-to-back home runs by Ramirez and Kamei.
The Dragons answered with a pair of runs in the top of the seventh to make the score 4-2.
Hisanori Takahashi got off to a slow start but was spared a loss by Yomiuri’s strong finish. Takahashi didn’t factor into the decision but allowed two runs and struck out nine.
Takahashi put himself into an early 2-0 hole after giving up Morino’s aforementioned two-run shot.
Chunichi’s lead stood up until the Giants tied it 2-2 in the sixth. But the Dragons put runners on first and third in the seventh with one out when Morino hit a grounder to second baseman Shigeyuki Furuki. Deciding against risking a throw home, Furuki went for the sure out at first, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
Tony Blanco then came through with a single into right field that drove in an insurance run.
The Dragons held that lead until Yomiuri’s rally in the eighth.
‘We were patient and though we were behind, we had confidence we could win in the end,” Hara said.
The Giants will attempt to close out the series in Game 4 on Saturday at Tokyo Dome.