Junki Ito turned 21 years old in January. That’s three fewer years than his batterymate Motonobu Tanishige has been a professional baseball player.
Still, the generation gap between them doesn’t seem as wide as the one that separated them from the Yomiuri Giants on Thursday night.
Ito threw 7 2/3 strong innings, third-year outfielder Yohei Oshima drove in a pair of runs, and the Chunichi Dragons beat the Yomiuri Giants 5-2 in Game 2 of the Central League Climax Series final stage on Thursday at Tokyo Dome.
“Our players did a great job tonight, and this win gives us confidence we can win the series,” said Dragons manager Morimichi Takagi.
The Dragons entered the series already trailing by one game, as the Giants were given an automatic one-game advantage by virtue of winning the CL pennant, but Chunichi put itself in a position of power with a 2-1 lead courtesy of two straight wins.
“I went into this game thinking it was one we could not lose, and I wanted to pitch as well as I could for as long as I could,” Ito said.
Ito gave up an RBI double to Hayato Sakamoto in the first, but proceeded to retire the next 17 batters in order. Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe snapped the streak with a one-out single in the seventh, but Ito got the next batter to hit into an inning-ending double play.
“I was a little nervous when the game started and gave up a run in the first inning but felt better after we got the lead in the top of the second,” Ito said.
“I got into a rhythm and was able to relax as the game went on and got really comfortable.”
The Giants finally got to him in the eighth, with Yoshiyuki Kamei connecting on a one-out single and Tetsuya Matsumoto drawing a walk. Shigeyuki Furuki hit into a fielder’s choice for the second out, with Kamei moving to third, which spelled the end of Ito’s night. Kamei would score later in the inning.
Ito gave up two runs on four hits and struck out seven. Takuya Asao relieved him in the eighth and allowed an RBI single by Hisayoshi Chono, before a diving catch by shortstop Hirokazu Ibata robbed pinch hitter Yoshihito Ishii of a run-scoring hit.
Ito aided his own cause at the plate, finishing 2-for-4 with an RBI.
The youngster’s performance came on the heels of 24-year-old Yudai Ono’s solid outing in Chunichi’s Game 1 victory on Wednesday.
“Yesterday Ono, today Ito,” Takagi said. “These young pitchers did really well under pressure.”
Oshima also had a big night, finishing with a pair of hits, a solo homer and two RBIs.
“I’m not really the type to hit home runs,” Oshima said. “I was able to hit one today, so I’m happy.”
Chunichi second baseman Masahiro Araki also sparked his team with two hits and an RBI, and Tanishige finished 0-for-3, but for the second consecutive night added an important insurance run in the ninth, this one coming off a sacrifice fly to right.
“Anytime you give the Dragons five runs, it will be tough to beat them,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.
Sakamoto and Chono each finished 2-for-4 with an RBI, accounting for both Yomiuri runs.
Giants starter D.J. Houlton gave up three runs on seven hits and lasted 3 2/3 innings. He struck out three and walked two.
His night began going south from the outset. Oshima hit a grounder back to the mound to lead off the game, but Houlton had trouble getting the ball out of his glove and ended up tossing both to first clearly ahead of Oshima. The umpire, however, ruled Oshima safe.
In the second, Ito hit a ball that bounced in front of the batter’s box with the bases loaded and no outs. Houlton and Abe thought the ball hit Ito’s foot and thought it would be called foul. By the time they realized it had been ruled fair, Ito was safe at first and a run had scored.
“Houlton was not able to pitch tonight as well as he usually does, and Ito really threw a nice game. He kept our hitters in check,” Hara said.
The Dragons can take another step toward reaching the Japan Series for a third straight season with a win in Game 3 on Friday at Tokyo Dome.
“I don’t think anyone has any pressure,” Chunichi slugger Tony Blanco said. “Just go out and have a great performance.”