For the last two years, the Yomiuri Giants have watched another team celebrate. Watched as another group of players paraded around the field clutching the Central League pennant.
This year, someone else can do the watching.
Led by Hisayoshi Chono and MVP candidate Shinnosuke Abe, Japan’s winningest franchise captured the CL title for the 34th time after a 6-4 win over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in front of a packed house on Friday night at Tokyo Dome.
“I just have one thing to say to our fans and players,” began Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, “Yusho omedeto gozaimasu (congratulations for this championship). This victory belongs to all of you.
“Our players, one by one, played their hearts out all season long, and they deserve to be called champions.”
Chono came up with the biggest hit on this night, breaking a 4-4 tie in the sixth with a bases-loaded single against reliever Ryo Hidaka to put the Giants ahead for good in front of a raucous crowd of 46,290.
Capturing the pennant gives the Giants, who last won the CL in 2009, both a one-game and home field advantage in the Central League Climax Series Final Stage, which begins Oct. 17 at Tokyo Dome.
“Our young players and the veterans all got together to make a great team,” Hara said. “It was a fantastic season and a super pennant race. This is the best team I ever managed.
“We expect to carry the momentum of this season through the Climax Series and the Japan Series.”
The Giants, who also won the interleague title, improved to 81-38-14 on the year and 11 games clear of the second-place Chunichi Dragons in the CL standings.
“After losing on Opening Day, the Giants recovered and showed great power, winning the interleague title, the first time a Central League team has won,” said NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato in a statement. “On July 1, they moved into first place and never dropped out of first place after that, and went on to win the Central League championship.”
Abe promised Giants fans a doage (a traditional victory toss for a championship-winning manager) after the team cut its magic number to one with a win over the Dragons on Wednesday in Nagoya.
Abe helped make good on his word with a home run in his first at-bat and an RBI single in his second, finishing 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs. The Yomiuri captain, a favorite to win the CL MVP Award, leads Japan with a .335 average and 98 RBIs, and his 26 home runs trail only Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien’s 29.
Giants starter Tetsuya Utsumi helped his own cause with a successful squeeze play in the fourth and third baseman Shuichi Murata also drove in a run.
Utsumi (14-5), Yomiuri’s Opening Day starter, moved to the top of the CL wins list despite allowing four runs on six hits in six innings on the mound. Satoshi Fukuda and Tetsuya Yamaguchi each worked a scoreless inning of relief and closer Kentaro Nishimura nailed down the title with his 30th save of the season.
Swallows first baseman Ryuji Miyade led a valiant effort by the Birds, finishing 2-for-4 with a double and a three-run homer. Balentien was 2-for-4 with an RBI and Hiroyasu Tanaka led all batters with three hits. Pitcher Tatsuyoshi Masubuchi (2-6) was charged with the loss.
Abe got the Giants off to a fast start with his solo home run in the first inning. The Yomiuri catcher drove in a run with a single in the third and Murata added another with a sacrifice fly.
A one-out single by Tanaka and a double by Miyade put runners on second and third for the Swallows in the fourth, and Balentien delivered with a single that just skipped off the outstretched glove of first baseman Yoshiyuki Kamei. Utsumi struck out Shingo Kawabata, then walked Shinya Miyamoto to load the bases. The next batter, Yasushi Iihara, worked the count full, and was nearly hit by ball three, before being retired on a pop-up in foul territory.
Utsumi retired the first two batters to start the fifth, then gave up a hit to Yuhei Takai. Tanaka also singled, and Miyade cleared the bases with his game-tying three-run shot to left-center.
Murata was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the sixth and Kamei and pinch hitter Yoshinobu Takahashi drew walks to load the bases. The next batter, pinch hitter Yoshihito Ishii, hit into a fielder’s choice, then Chono put the Giants ahead with his two-run hit to left.
Blanco lifts Dragons
Chunichi’s Tony Blanco ended Minoru Iwata’s bid for a no-hitter with a three-run home run in the seventh inning as the Dragons defeated the Hanshin Tigers 3-2 on Friday night in the Central League.
Iwata (8-13) had walked the first two Dragons in the seventh inning at Koshien Stadium.
Matt Murton drove in both of Hanshin’s runs with RBI singles in the fourth and sixth.
Masahiro Yamamoto started for Chunichi. The 47-year-old lefty allowed a run on three hits in five innings but got no decision.
BayStars 3, Carp 1
At Yokohama Stadium, the BayStars won for the first time since Sept. 7 as pinch hitter Tatsuya Shimozono overturned a 1-0 Hiroshima lead with a three-run triple, sending the Carp to their fifth straight loss.
Yokohama starter Yuki Kuniyoshi (4-11) worked seven innings to earn the victory.
The BayStars had gone 0-7 with three ties since their last win, when Kuniyoshi threw a three-hit shutout against the Carp in Hiroshima.
Carp ace Kenta Maeda came out of the game after throwing just 71 pitches in five shutout innings.
Lions 4, Fighters 2
At Seibu Dome, Seibu’s Hideto Asamura tied the game in the eighth inning with his second RBI of the game, and Hiroyuki Nakajima tripled in two more runs as the Lions came from behind to beat tough Hokkaido Nippon Ham lefty Mitsuo Yoshikawa (13-5) and trim the Fighters’ lead in the Pacific League to 1 1/2 games.
Yoshikawa, the PL’s pitcher of the month for August, suffered his first loss since July 7. Lions right-hander Ryoma Nogami allowed two runs in 7 2/3 innings, while reliever Randy Williams (4-3) collected the win after bailing Nogami out of trouble in the eighth.
Marines 3, Buffaloes 1
At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Chiba Lotte ace Yoshihisa Naruse (12-10) allowed a run on three hits and two walks in seven innings to beat Orix and earn his first victory since Aug. 10.
The Marines scored twice in the first inning off Italy international Alesandro Maestri (3-3) on consecutive two-out RBI singles by Katsuya Kakunaka and Saburo Omura.
Hawks 1, Eagles 1 (10)
At Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium, Tohoku Rakuten’s Wataru Karashima scattered nine hits and a walk to allow just a run over seven innings as the Eagles survived a strong game by Fukuoka Softbank southpaw Kenji Otonari to escape with a 10-inning tie in their 3-hour, 45-minute game.
Otonari surrendered a leadoff homer in the first to Ryo Hijirisawa, but didn’t give up another hit until one out in the seventh. The Hawks tied it in the second on an RBI single by Kenta Imamiya.