The Chunichi Dragons just don’t know how to do anything the easy way. Which is a bit ironic, since their path to the Japan Series title just got a whole lot clearer.
Masahiko Morino lined a go-ahead single into left during the 10th inning and the Dragons victimized reliever Takahiro Mahara for the second straight night on their way to edging the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 2-1 in Game 2 of the Japan Series on Sunday at Yahoo Dome.
“These are tough games, especially for us as the visiting team, but we got it done last night and again tonight,” Morino said.
After beating the Hawks 2-1 in extra innings in consecutive games, the Dragons are halfway to the title. They lead the series 2-0 and are scheduled to play the next three games at home in Nagoya Dome.
“I’m just happy we won,” Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai said. “We played similar games last year in the Japan Series and lost.”
In Game 1, it was Masaaki Koike’s homer in the 10th against Mahara that propelled Chunichi to the win. Things were a little harder on Sunday.
Mahara began the 10th by retiring the first two batters he faced. Masahiro Araki kept the Dragons alive with an infield single and Hirokazu Ibata drew a walk to extend the inning. That brought Morino to the plate, and his hit was enough to score Araki from second.
“Our number one and two hitters set the table and, with two outs, I was just trying to punch a ball through the infield,” Morino said. “It did not matter where I hit it.”
Offense was hard to come by for much of the night, with Dragons pitcher Kazuki Yoshimi and Hawks starter Toshiya Sugiuchi both working on shutouts entering the seventh.
Morino led off Chunichi’s half of the inning with a double. Sugiuchi then struck out Tony Blanco, walked Kazuhiro Wada and fanned Koike. The next batter, Ryosuke Hirata, broke the deadlock with an RBI double that just missed landing in the seats in left field and put the Dragons ahead 1-0.
“I was anxious to come through in that situation, so I went for the first pitch,” Hirata said. “Luckily, I hit it well.”
Singles by Yuya Hasegawa and Hitoshi Tamura got the Hawks going in the bottom half. Shuhei Fukuda moved the runners over with a sacrifice bunt and pinch hitter Nobuhiko Matsunaka drew a walk to load the bases.
That spelled the end for Yoshimi. He was relieved by Takuya Asao, who stepped into a volatile situation with Munenori Kawasaki at the plate.
The Softbank shortstop won the battle, tying the game with an RBI single.
“It didn’t matter what kind of pitch he threw, I was going to make contact by any means,” Kawasaki said. “It was a chance that the guys, starting with Matsunaka-san, created, so there was no way I wanted to waste it.”
Asao retired the next two batters to leave the bases loaded and keep his team in the game.
Asao worked a hitless eighth before being relieved by Masafumi Hirai in the ninth. Hirai retired all three batters he faced and Hitoki Iwase closed out the game in the 10th. Hirai was credited with the win while Iwase picked up his second save of the series.
“In tight games like this, the difference for us is Asao and Iwase, and that’s how it played out,” Ochiai said.
Yoshimi went 6 1/3 innings, allowing one run on seven hits and striking out four. Sugiuchi threw 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball, giving up five hits and striking out five. Neither starter factored into the decision. Mahara took the loss for Softbank.
Winning both games in Fukuoka gives the Dragons a chance to clinch the series at home in Nagoya. That would be extra special considering Ochiai is in his final days as the team’s manager.
The club announced earlier in the year Ochiai would not be retained after his contract expires this season.
“I have nothing to say about that yet but will comment when the time comes,” Ochiai said.
The way his team is playing, that time may be approaching sooner than expected.
“The doage (victory toss) in front of the home fans would be a good send-off present for our manager,” Morino said.