Manager Tatsunori Hara put the season in Hirokazu Sawamura’s hands, and the rest of the Yomiuri Giants followed the young pitcher’s lead.
Because they did, the Kyojin‘s Japan Series hopes are alive and well.
Sawamura threw six innings of shutout ball, Shinnosuke Abe drove in a pair of runs, and the Giants staved off elimination with a 3-1 win in Game 4 of the Central League Climax Series final stage in front of a crowd of 46,158 Saturday night at Tokyo Dome.
“One win today buys us another day, and if we win tomorrow, we’re even,” Sawamura said. “We have to take it one day at a time.”
The Dragons lead the series 3-2.
Sawamura scattered seven hits, struck out four and walked two to notch the first win by a Giants pitcher in the series. (Yomiuri entered the final stage with an automatic one-game advantage.)
“Sawamura did his job today, and by the fifth inning I knew we had a great chance to win tonight,” Abe said.
The second-year hurler ran into trouble in the sixth with his team clinging to a 2-0 advantage. He retired the first two batters of the inning, but gave up singles to Ryosuke Hirata and Masahiko Morino and walked Motonobu Tanishige to load the bases.
Sawamura struck out pinch hitter Takeshi Yamasaki to escape the inning without allowing a run.
“Abe-san called the right pitches, and I was able to work out of the jam,” Sawamura said.
Abe, 2-for-13 in the previous three games, finally showed up for the Giants, finishing with a pair of hits and his two RBIs. Abe’s biggest hit of the night may have come in the eighth, when he singled in an insurance run that made the score 3-1.
“Abe’s hit gave us the two-run lead, and that was huge going into the ninth inning,” Hara said.
Hayato Sakamoto had a good night as well, finishing 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored.
Reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi allowed a run in the seventh but got out of the inning with a 2-1 lead. Scott Mathieson worked a scoreless eighth, and Kentaro Nishimura, aided by the insurance run Abe drove in during the eighth, closed things out.
Dragons third baseman Masahiko Morino continued to light it up at the plate, finishing 2-for-2. Morino is 7-for-11 in the series. Hirokazu Ibata also had a pair of hits, including an RBI single in the seventh.
Chunichi starter Kenshin Kawakami lasted four innings and took the loss after allowing a pair of runs. Kawakami gave up four hits and struck out two.
Hisayoshi Chono led off the third with a single and advanced to second on Tetsuya Matsumoto’s sacrifice bunt. Sakamoto drove in Chono with a double to left, and Abe plated another run with an RBI single.
The Dragons pulled a run back in the seventh on an RBI single by Ibata that made the score 2-1.
Abe made it 3-1 with his single in the eighth, and Nishimura recorded the save in the ninth.
The Giants saved their season but still face a slightly uphill battle in the series. Yomiuri has to win twice more (or register a win and a tie) in order to reach the Japan Series.
Chunichi simply needs to win once to end things, making Sunday’s Game 5 another do-or-die affair for the Giants. After finally earning a win on the field in the final stage, the CL champions don’t seem to be lacking confidence.
“Of course we expect to win tomorrow,” Hara said. “We’re the Kyojin.”