NAGOYA – Hirokazu Ibata made Shohei Tateyama pay in the worst way, breaking a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the sixth inning as the Chunichi Dragons held off the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in a 2-1 victory to book a spot in the Japan Series for the second consecutive year on Sunday.
The Central League champion Dragons, who had an automatic one-win advantage as the league champion, won the Climax Series final stage four games to two against the second-place Swallows, setting up a meeting with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the best-of-seven Japan Series that gets under way on Saturday at Yahoo Dome.
Outgoing Chunichi manager Hiromitsu Ochiai will aim to bring home the championship trophy for the first time since achieving the feat for the first time in 53 years in five games against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in 2007.
“The pennant race and the Climax Series are two different things,” said Ochiai. “I was just sitting here watching intensely but the players were really focused. I owe it to the players and staff and everyone else involved that helped us make it through the Climax Series. Tomorrow I want to take a nice rest.”
Chunichi will make its 10th overall appearance in the Japan Series. It is the first time that both league champions will face each other in the championship series since the Yomiuri Giants and Fighters faced off in 2009.
Tateyama (0-1), pitching on two days’ rest after a two-inning relief appearance in Game 2, allowed just two singles through five innings but things took a wrong turn when he issued a one-out walk to Masahiro Araki in the sixth.
The right-hander, who went 11-5 during the regular season, was distracted as he threw several times to first in an attempt to pick off Araki and Ibata drilled a 2-2 fastball over the left-field wall for a 2-0 lead at Nagoya Dome.
“I’m not a home run batter, so it’s not like I’ll get a raise in salary for that home run,” Ibata joked. “This year the pitching staff helped carry us to the league title. At the very least, I wanted to changed the script in a short series like this and help the pitching staff relax.”
Game 1 winner Kazuki Yoshimi, pitching on three days’ rest, threw eight shutout innings of three-hit ball, striking out eight while walking none, get his second win of the series.
Japan’s all-time saves leader Hitoki Iwase yielded a leadoff double in the ninth to pinch-hitter Ryohei Kawamoto, who scored on a Norichika Aoki two-out single to center for Yakult’s sole run, and with the game on the line Ochiai had seen enough from his closer.
Takuya Asao got Kazuhiro Hatakeyama to pop out in third base foul territory for the final out.
Chunichi won Game 1 behind Yoshimi’s strong outing before dropping Games 2 and 3 and winning the next two to clinch its spot in the Japan Series.
Once the runway CL leader, the Swallows faded badly at the end of the season before relinquishing first place to Chunichi on Oct. 6.