|

Giants rose to the occasion

by Jason Coskrey

For three consecutive nights, the Yomiuri Giants lived life on the edge.

Shell-shocked by three straight losses in the Central League Climax Series final stage against a Chunichi Dragons squad that swept into Tokyo Dome, caught fire, and threatened to burn the joint down on their way to the Japan Series, the Kyojin were suddenly the underdogs in their own building.

“We started with three straight losses and were nearly pushed out of the ring,” Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara said. “But our players did their jobs well and we ended up winning three in a row.”

Scrappiness isn’t usually a term associated with the Giants, but when brute force didn’t work, the Central League champions scratched and clawed their way back into the series with an impressive display of will and were rewarded with another trip to the Japan Series.

Hara was described as looking a bit pale and in a state of shock after the Dragons took a 3-1 lead in the series with a win in Game 3. Hara’s team hadn’t won a game on the field, having begun the series with an automatic one-game lead, and the team that won the CL by 10½ games was headed toward a monumental letdown.

“We had to come back and win three in a row,” said Scott Mathieson, the winning pitcher in Game 5. “We were able to do it. We’ve had some pretty good streaks this year and hopefully this is the start of another one. Four more wins.”

Facing elimination, captain Shinnosuke Abe reminded everyone of the stakes in a brief players’ only meeting, and the team scratched out a win in Game 4. Just like that, Yomiuri had found itself again.

“Of course we expect to win tomorrow,” Hara said after that game. “We’re the Kyojin.”

Of course they expected to win. That’s what the Giants do, it’s what they’ve done all season.

It was more of a mission statement than a reply, a show of bluster from Hara that seemed more suited to have come from rambling figurehead Tsuneo Watanabe, chairman of The Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings.

“We ended the pennant race ahead by a wide margin,” Hara said Monday. “None of our players had any doubts. I think that led to the victory.”

Game 4 gave the Giants an on-field win, and began the shift in momentum that would eventually swallow the Dragons whole.

“We had a tough fight,” said Chunichi’s Tony Blanco. “It’s not easy to beat the Giants in their home. We got three wins, then the games started getting hard. That’s how it is, that’s how the game is. You win, you lose.”

Yomiuri entered the ninth inning of Game 5 locked in a 2-2 tie, and Yoshihito Ishii forced a sixth game with a pinch-hit sayonara single. That sent Yomiuri from the brink of a collapse to the edge of an improbable, even for the Giants, comeback.

“We knew we had to win,” Mathieson said. “Today, obviously with the excitement of knowing we can clinch this and go to the Japan Series, everyone was pretty determined.”

Pitcher D.J. Houlton closed things out by winning Game 6 on three days’ rest, buoyed by Takayuki Terauchi’s two RBIs, a run-scoring single by Hisayoshi Chono, and a solo homer from Shuichi Murata.

Life on the edge brought out the best in the Giants. Three days at their worst inspired the team to respond by doing whatever it took to win, turning potential embarrassment into something the franchise can be proud of.

“This year, 2012, will be remembered for a long time,” Hara said. “We beat a Chunichi Dragons team with lots of veteran players, and again, to come back from the brink of elimination, it is really special.”