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Catcher has pair of run-scoring hits in victory over Dragons

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Shinnosuke Abe rallied the troops before the Yomiuri Giants took the field for Game 4 of the Central League Climax Series final stage.

After a year that saw them win the league title by 10 1/2 games, the Kyojin arrived at Tokyo Dome on Saturday with their season a mere 27 outs away from a premature ending.

The team meeting was players only and didn’t take long, about a minute by Abe’s estimation, but the Yomiuri captain made sure to get his message across loud and clear.

“I told them, ‘Let’s do it. If we lose today, we’re done,’ ” Abe said.

His teammates responded by finally breaking through to beat the Chunichi Dragons 3-1, breathing new life into a series that had seen the visitors sweep into the Big Egg and win three straight.

After suffering a 5-4 defeat in 10 innings in Game 3 on Friday, which gave Chunichi a 3-1 advantage in the series, the Giants were searching for answers on Saturday.

“There wasn’t too much noise in our clubhouse,” pitcher D.J. Houlton said of the atmosphere after the loss.

The mighty Yomiuri offense that led Japan with 534 runs scored during the regular season, had mostly limped through its first three postseason games, the lone highlights being home runs by Shuichi Murata and Yoshinobu Takahashi in Friday’s Game 3 loss.

The captain was chief among the underachievers, registering just two hits in the three defeats, the same amount he finished with in Saturday’s victory.

“This win has a big meaning,” Abe said. “Before the game, the team mood was good, and all the players expressed confidence that this would not be the last game.”

Abe led by example, driving in a run in the third inning to put Yomiuri ahead 2-0. He struck again in the eighth with an RBI single in that made the score 3-1.

Yomiuri’s offensive troubles didn’t improve dramatically in Game 4, they were outhit 11-6, the difference was they came up with big hits when they needed them.

“We were able to win even though we were outhit,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.

On the mound, second-year pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura showed the poise of a veteran, deftly keeping the Dragons off the board. Chunichi was able to load the bases against Sawamura twice, but the 24-year-old hurler made sure they left empty-handed on both occasions.

“I didn’t feel much pressure,” Sawamura said afterward. I felt comfortable on the mound.”

The team may have some of its swagger back now after finally notching a win in front of a raucous crowd of Giants supporters.

“We’ll win tomorrow and the next day and go to the Japan Series,” Sawamura said.

The captain, perhaps preparing for another meeting, felt the same way.

“If we play Giants baseball again tomorrow, we’ll win,” Abe said.