The Chunichi Dragons have their fair share of youth on the roster, but it was a group of veterans who helped them reach the Japan Series with a 4-3 win over the Yomiuri Giants in Game 4 of the Central League Climax Series on Saturday.
Starting pitcher Masahiro Yamamoto, in his 27th season, began the night with a bit of history, at age 45 becoming the oldest hurler to record a postseason appearance.
He did his job well, delivering 4 1/3 scoreless innings to keep the Giants off the scoreboard early.
Kohei Oda, in his 13th season, took his turn in the spotlight in the bottom of the fourth, breaking a scoreless tie with a two-run double.
The Dragons scored their third run in the eighth when Motonobu Tanishige, a 40-year old in his 22nd season, drew a bases-loaded walk.
The Giants tied the score in the top of the ninth, but Chunichi responded by putting runners on first and second with one out in the bottom half. That brought 38-year-old, 14-year veteran Kazuhiro Wada to the plate, and he lined the first pitch he saw into left to drive in the winning run.
For Yamamoto and Wada especially, Saturday was just the continuation of positive regular-season campaigns.
Yamamoto got his first start of the season on Aug. 7 and went 5-1 with a 3.21 ERA in eight appearances late in the year.
Wada had a huge year, playing in all 144 games and hitting .339 with 37 home runs and 93 RBIs. He also led the NPB with a .437 on-base percentage and .624 slugging percentage.
The Dragons will be hoping their veterans have a little more left in the tank as they attempt to deliver the first double (CL and Japan Series title) to Nagoya in 56 years next week in the Japanese Fall Classic.
Now what?: The Yomiuri Giants’ season is over but a busy winter lies ahead.
A shakeup may be coming in the bullpen with speculation the team will part ways with Marc Kroon.
The closer battled through injuries but had a down year by his standards, recording 25 saves with a 4.26 ERA.
Another big question is the status of slugger Lee Seung Yeop, among the highest paid players in Japanese baseball. After a solid year for the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2005 (.260, 30 home runs, 82 RBIs), and a breakout 2006 for the Giants (.323, 41 home runs and 108 RBIs), Lee has struggled with injuries and poor play.
He made just 56 appearances this year — batting .163, with five homers and 11 RBIs — and is likely on his way out.
Should the Kyojin lose Kroon, they might consider making a run at free-agent Lim Chang Yong, who recorded 35 saves for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows this season. There is also speculation the team could make a run at prying starter Kenshin Kawakami away from the Atlanta Braves to help their ailing rotation.
The team also has decisions to make about pitcher Seth Greisinger and holes at first base and in the rotation that need to be addressed.
Not quite ready yet: The Chiba Lotte Marines will likely be without injured pitcher Yuki Karakawa and rookie infielder Takashi Ogino in the Japan Series.
Karakawa was taken off the active roster on Sept. 1 with tightness in his right elbow, while Ogino has been missing since May 25 with knee trouble.
Reports out of the Lotte camp earlier this week hinted at a possible return by one, or both, of the young stars, but the news hasn’t been so rosy as of late.
Ogino worked out with the top team this week, but swelling in his knee limited his workload. It also appears that news of Karakawa’s possible return was also misjudged as he is still working his way back.