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Unsung heroes make key contributions for Giants

by Jason Coskrey

NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo Pref. — Yoshiyuki Kamei went 0-for-5 in Game 2 of the first stage of the Central League Climax Series. After the Yomiuri Giants’ series-clinching 7-6 victory, he was hailed as a hero by teammate Alex Ramirez and praised by manager Tatsunori Hara.

Normally 0-for-5 doesn’t earn many plaudits. Then again, these aren’t normally the types of games the Giants have won this season.

Cast in the unfamiliar role of underdog and on the road in the Climax Series for the first time ever, the Giants scratched, clawed and battled their way to a pair of tight games over the Hanshin Tigers.

“We played against the Tigers 24 times this year,” Hara said. “We won 12 and lost 12. Both teams knew this would be a tough fight. We easily could have lost. The difference between the two teams was very fine.”

Yomiuri fell behind early in Game 1, then battled back to take a 3-1 lead in the fifth and the bullpen made the lead hold up.

Still, the Giants were inches away from losing a two-run lead in the eighth inning of that game, as the ball came perilously close to rolling out of Hayato Sakamoto’s glove after the shortstop made a crucial catch with the bases loaded.

They trailed for the majority of Game 2, facing a deficit of four runs at one point, but took advantage of some Hanshin mistakes and small-balled their way to a victory. A complete turnaround from most of their wins, where they slugged the opposition into oblivion.

“The pitchers, the fielders and all the players on the bench fought very hard,” Hara said. “‘In terms of morale, ours was better.”

Ramirez struck the decisive blow with a go-ahead two-run single in the eighth off closer Kyuji Fujikawa.

Prior to Ramirez’s at-bat, Kamei drew an eight-pitch walk, during which Fujikawa threw him four forkballs. That gave Michihiro Ogasawara and Ramirez, who each had two-out hits, an extended look at Fujikawa.

Which really helped Ramirez as the final three pitches he saw were forkballs.

“Kamei opened the door for us to be able to do that,” Ramirez said. “He had a great at-bat and that gave ‘Guts’ and I a chance to come back and hit this guy. I think that was the key. Kamei was the key for us.”

Kamei had a down season for the Giants, hitting .185 in 71 games, and spent a lot of time on the farm. But his work there got Hara’s attention and the manager gave him a chance in the postseason.

“Right now he’s not playing his best ball and his condition is not there yet,” Hara said. “But I heard he worked diligently in the minor leagues. That’s why he started.

“He’s the type of player who I tend to expect a lot out of even if his condition is not as good.”

The Giants also had a number of unsung heroes in the bullpen, including starters Dicky Gonzalez and Seth Greisinger, who each pitched in relief. Greisinger was put in an especially tough position, forced into action in the second inning.

Hara had planned to use Greisinger in relief, but after starter Hideki Asai gave up two runs in the first, Greisinger was pressed into duty early.

“I was just warming up and they came down and asked if I was ready,” Greisinger said “That’s the first time I ever pitched out of the bullpen. I don’t know how to do it. I probably did it incorrectly,” he deadpanned. I felt good. I guess I did all right, though next time I might throw more fastballs.”

Greisinger gave up a run in three innings of relief, but pitched well and kept the Giants within striking distance.

Yomiuri, which heads to Nagoya for the CL Climax Series final stage against the regular-season champion Chunichi Dragons, is confident after twice winning the type of game that most of the time this season it lost.

“We did everything we needed to do to come back and beat these guys at this stadium,” Ramirez said.

“We can’t take anything for granted. We’ve got to go out there and do our best every single game. Because those guys have a good team. We just gotta go there with the same attitude. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to beat (the Dragons).”