The last time Yoshitomo Tani hit a grand slam, it helped send Takuya Kimura to his second Japan Series.
Tani saved his next one as the capper to a stirring night of tribute to a fallen friend.
Tani hit a pinch-hit, come-from-behind grand slam in the eighth inning and Lee Seung Yeop followed it with a towering solo shot as the Giants rallied to beat the Hiroshima Carp 7-4 in front of 46,673 fans in Kimura’s memorial game on Saturday at Tokyo Dome.
“We thought about Takuya all day and really wanted to win this game for him,” Tani said. “We feel Kimura is still with us in spirit and it is really special for me to be the hero in this game and give us the win.”
Tani got the customary double-fist bump from manager Tatsunori Hara after his home run, but the two also shared an embrace in the dugout, during what will likely be the most emotional game of the season.
The night got the best of the normally stoic Tani after the game, as the tears began flowing during the hero interview.
“It was a game that could have gone either way and it was necessary to make a lot of player substitutions,” Hara said. “In the end, it was Tani who came through with the grand slam that sealed the win for us.”
Tani last hit a grand slam during Game 4 of the second stage of the 2009 Central League Climax Series, and sent the Giants to Japan’s version of the Fall Classic, which they won.
The recently retired Kimura, a former player for the Nippon Ham Fighters, Carp and Giants, was serving as Yomiuri’s hitting coach when he collapsed while hitting balls during pre-game fielding practice in Hiroshima on April 2.
Kimura died on April 7. He was 37. The Giants and Carp honored him during a ceremony prior to the game and both teams wore a black strip on the left sleeve of their uniforms.
“It’s unbelievable, the love he’s getting from everybody,” Giants star Alex Ramirez said after batting practice. “He deserves every bit of the love he’s getting. Because he was the man. He’s always going to be in our hearts and minds. We’re always going to remember him.”
Kimura’s son, Koki, threw the ceremonial first pitch before the game, then was engulfed in a sea of hugs and high-fives from the Giants on his way off the field. Koki Kimura received the winning ball from Tani following the game.
“I told him I have his phone number and that we will always be there for him,” Tani said.
Giants third baseman Michihiro Ogasawara led off the eighth with a walk and Ramirez followed with a single for the Giants, who trailed 3-2. A groundout by Shinnosuke Abe advanced the runners to second and third.
The Carp intentionally walked the next batter, Hisayoshi Chono, to load the bases for Tani.
“This was an extremely emotional day with the ceremony and a time to remember Takuya,” Hara said. “The victory made the day complete.”
Giants pitcher Daisuke Ochi (2-0) won in relief, despite giving up a run in one inning of work. Ken Takahashi (3-1) was charged with the loss.
The Carp got on the board first, taking a 1-0 lead on an RBI double by Soichiro Amaya in the opening frame.
The Giants’ No. 2 batter, Tetsuya Matsumoto, hit a one-out single in the second inning, stole a base and later advanced to third on a wild pitch. He scored on a game-tying single from Ogasawara.
The Giants found themselves back in the driver’s seat after a home run by Abe made the score 2-1.
Hiroshima tied things up in the seventh, benefiting from a RBI single off the bat of Akihiro Higashide.
The Carp took a brief lead in the top of the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Naoteru Nakahigashi. Hiroshima pulled a run back in the ninth on a pinch-hit double by Takuro Ishii, but could get no closer.
Visit The Japan Times’ Web site for a recap of Saturday’s other Nippon Professional Baseball games.