NAGOYA – Kazuki Yoshimi threw one-run ball over 7⅓ strong innings and Masahiko Morino drove in both of his team’s runs as the Chunichi Dragons edged the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 2-1 in Game 1 of the Central League Climax Series final stage on Wednesday.
The CL champion Dragons, who received an automatic one-win lead and home field advantage as the pennant winner, took a 2-0 lead in the series against the second-place Swallows. The first team to reach four wins advances to the best-of-seven Japan Series.
“That was a good game, wasn’t it? I was wondering how things would turn out since it was our first game in two weeks,” said outgoing Chunichi manager Hiromitsu Ochiai. “I guess I worried too much. The players are well rested and moving well.”
Yoshimi, an 18-game winner who was 4-0 with a 1.22 ERA against Yakult during the regular season, scattered five hits and struck out two in a 112-pitch outing at Nagoya Dome.
“Winning the first game was very important, so I’m relieved,” said Yoshimi, who made his first career start in the opening game of postseason play.
Hirokazu Ibata had a one-out double down the left-field line in the bottom of the first and scored the opening run on Morino’s double to right-center. Morino added a run-scoring single in the third.
Yakult catcher Ryoji Aikawa, who homered in Game 3 of the first stage against the third-place Yomiuri Giants, had a leadoff double in the third and reached third on a sacrifice bunt by Yakult starter Tatsuyoshi Masubuchi.
Norichika Aoki drew a walk to put runners at the corners, but Yoshimi struck out Hiroyasu Tanaka swinging and got Kazuki Fukuchi to ground out to end the threat.
The Swallows placed runners at first and second with one out in the sixth, and Yoshimi delivered once again on flyouts by Kazuhiro Hatakeyama and Shinya Miyamoto.
Yakult cut the deficit in half against reliever Takuya Asao, who inherited a runner and yielded a base hit in the eighth, when Aoki scored from third on Fukuchi’s groundball to shortstop Masahiro Araki on a failed attempt at a double play.
Asao struggled to contain his wildness, walking a pair of batters in the ninth before all-time saves leader Hitoki Iwase got Josh Whitesell to ground out to third to record the final out.
Masubuchi, who went 7-11 with a 4.22 ERA in 27 appearances in 2011, was done after allowing two runs and four hits in just 2⅓ innings.
Game 2 of the series, which could potentially go six games, is Thursday night in Nagoya.
The Swallows, who beat Yomiuri two games to one in the first stage of the playoffs, are aiming to play in the Japan Series for the first time in 10 years.
“We really struggled to score. We were lucky to limit the damage to the two runs by Masubuchi. The way we played it was only natural that we lost this game. You don’t get that many chances against the Chunichi pitching staff,” said Yakult manager Junji Ogawa.
Ichiro’s streak over
Seattle Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki’s streak of Gold Gloves ended at 10 as he was left out of the awards announced on Tuesday.
Ichiro had won the award for fielding excellence every year since he arrived from Japan through the posting system in 2001 and last year became the first player to win it in each of his first 10 major league seasons.
The 38-year-old, who also had his major league record streak of consecutive 200-hit seasons snapped at 10 this season and was not selected to the All-Star team, ended the season with 184 hits and a .272 batting average — both career lows.
He started the season strongly, batting .328 in April, but struggled to a .210 average in May and stayed below .300 the rest of the season.
Ichiro remains tied with Pete Rose for most 200-hit seasons in a career, with 10.
Gold Glove winners are selected by major league managers and coaches prior to the conclusion of the regular season.