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Giants scratch seven-year title itch

Yomiuri beats Fighters in Game 6, wins first Japan Series since 2002

by Jason Coskrey

SAPPORO — Tetsuya Utsumi didn’t expect to get a second chance to redeem himself in the Japan Series.

But when opportunity came knocking in Game 6, he responded like a champion.

Utsumi was pressed into action after a first-inning injury shelved starter Shun Tono and came though in the clutch with 4 2/3 scoreless innings on the hill to help the Yomiuri Giants win the Japan Series with a 2-0 victory over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Saturday at Sapporo Dome.

“That was my best performance of the year,” Utsumi said. “I had a disappointing outing in the second game, so I was looking for payback. I was prepared to go at any time.”

Utsumi, who got the win, and relievers Kiyoshi Toyoda, Tetsuya Yamaguchi and Daisuke Ochi helped get the ball to closer Marc Kroon in the bottom of the eighth with runners on first and second with two away.

Clinging to a slim 2-0 lead, Kroon took over for Ochi and retired Tomochika Tsuboi to get out of the jam in the eighth.

“That was stress,” Kroon said. “But Ochi’s been pitching great this year. So I felt a lot of confidence that I would be able to come in and help him out in that situation.”

Kroon gave up a leadoff double to Tomohiro Nioka in the ninth and allowed pinch runner Kazuya Murata to reach third later in the inning. But he struck out Atsunori Inaba and Shinji Takahashi to nail down the four-out save.

“We were able to execute our ‘winning pattern’ today with Kroon closing for us,” manager Tatsunori Hara said. “In the end we are No. 1, and it felt great to be tossed in the air during the doage.”

Kroon, who has had a fabulous postseason, earned three saves in the championship round.

“It was a great series,” Kroon said. “They’re a great team and they have great batters. I thought I pitched really well in this series. Today it was four outs, so I thought I did well.”

The win gives the Giants their 21st triumph in Japanese baseball’s title series. The Seibu Lions, last season’s winners, are a distant second with 13 championships.

Captain Shinnosuke Abe got the Giants on the board with an RBI single to deep center in the second and an crucial error by Inaba led to another Yomiuri run in the sixth.

“My timing was a little off, but I was still able to make contact with the barrel of the bat,” Abe said. “We wanted to score first by any means today.”

Abe was named the Japan Series MVP after the game.

“It was a tough series,” Abe said. “But what I will remember most is the sayonara home run (in Game 5), and the support of the Giants fans. I want to thank them for cheering for us throughout the series. They were a big reason we could come out with the victory.”

Tono threw just 14 pitches in the first inning before being struck on the hand while attempting to field a liner back to the mound by Takahashi.

When it was clear Tono couldn’t continue, Utsumi was summoned with runners on second and third and two outs. He set the tone for his outing by quickly retiring slugger Terrmel Sledge.

Utsumi came through when it mattered most, never faltering when the Nippon Ham put runners on base.

The Fighters had their fair share of chances too, leaving five runners stranded — twice ending an inning with a runner on third — against the left-hander.

It was a bit of redemption for Utsumi, who won in the Japan Series for the first time in five appearances. Utsumi lost Game 2 of this year’s Japan Fall Classic after giving up four runs in 2 2/3 innings.

Fighters starter Masaru Takeda lost for the second time in the series, giving up two-runs — one earned in 7 2/3 solid innings.

“I gave everything I had in me,” Takeda said. “Although I gave up some runs I have no regrets.”

Yomiuri’s Yoshiyuki Kamei got things started in the second by connecting on a one-out double. He moved to third after the next batter, Yoshitomo Tani, grounded out. Abe followed with a deep drive to center that bounced off the wall for an RBI double.

Takeda cruised past the first two Yomiuri batters in the sixth before giving up a single to Tetsuya Matsumoto. Michihiro Ogasawara then hit a ball into right field toward Inaba.

As the ball rolled toward him, the normally reliable Inaba couldn’t to field it cleanly and fell down trying to retrieve it as Matsumoto rounded third to score.

“This win came at the perfect time,” said Giants pitcher Dicky Gonzalez, who won Game 1 of the series. “We wanted to finish early and we did it. We made it.”