It’s beginning to look like the Chunichi Dragons just will not be denied.
Pinch hitter Takahiro Donoue connected on a tiebreaking RBI single in the top of the 10th and closer Hitoki Iwase, with a helping hand from his defense, shut the door in the bottom half to give the Dragons a 5-4 victory over the Yomiuri Giants in Game 3 of the Central League Climax Series final stage on Friday night at Tokyo Dome.
The win gave the Dragons, who entered the series facing an automatic one-game disadvantage, a commanding 3-1 lead in the final stage showdown.
“I knew I was facing (Kentaro) Nishimura, one of the toughest pitchers in our league, so I just wanted to concentrate and try to get a hit with two outs,” Donoue said.
Donoue had fallen behind 1-2 in the count before ripping a single up the middle to drive in Ryosuke Hirata from third.
“After two strikes, I just tried to make contact and was able to hit the ball past (shortstop Hayato) Sakamoto,” Donoue said.
A win in Game 4 on Saturday would earn the Dragons a third straight trip to the Japan Series. The winner of the CL series will face the Pacific League’s Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, who punched their ticket with a win over the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks earlier in the night.
“Tomorrow all my pitchers will be on call and we will go all out to win and go to the Japan Series,” Dragons manager Morimichi Takagi said.
Almost all of Chunichi’s players had a hand in the victory.
Seven of the team’s eight starting position players recorded at least one hit, and Hirokazu Ibata, the lone exception, drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
“The way we’re playing is good,” said first baseman Tony Blanco. “We’re making contact, we’re getting on base and we’re getting good results. Hopefully tomorrow we continue it.”
Chunichi’s Yuta Muto worked a scoreless ninth and got credit for the win.
The Dragons sent 47-year-old lefty Masahiro Yamamoto to the mound to start the game, and the crafty veteran delivered five innings of two-run ball, surrendering three hits, striking out three and walking two.
Yamamoto was in line for the win in the sixth with the Dragons ahead 4-2 and reliever Shinji Tajima on the mound.
Yamamoto was knocked out of the decision by a game-tying two-run home run from Yoshinobu Takahashi that breathed new life into the Giants and got the Big Egg rocking.
“I was concerned because the Giants hit two home runs,” Takagi said, also referencing Shuichi Murata’s solo shot in the fourth. “Fortunately our bench came through with Donoue getting the winning hit.”
Takahashi’s two-run drive got Giants starter Ryosuke Miyaguni off the hook. Miyaguni, who walked four, had allowed three runs on four hits in five innings and was on the line for the loss before Takahashi intervened.
Blanco led off the 10th with a single, but was forced out at second on Hirata’s sacrifice bunt attempt. Masahiko Morino, hitting a blazing .556 in the series, followed with a single that put runners on the corners for Motonobu Tanishige.
Tanishige fouled a ball off and later struck out on his second failed squeeze attempt of the at-bat. Donoue, however, came through with a clutch single that got past Sakamoto and set off a celebration in the Chunichi section of the stands.
The Giants will be playing for their season when the series resumes in Game 4.
“We kept fighting back tonight but were just not able to get the victory,” Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara said. “Obviously tomorrow’s game will be do-or-die for us.”
The Dragons, meanwhile, look to bid Tokyo a fond farewell on their way back to Nagoya, where they hope the Japan Series will begin on Oct. 27.
“Our team can feel how close we are now to winning this,” Donoue said. “I think we can do it tomorrow.”