SAPPORO – John Bowker kept his torrid postseason run going, and Tetsuya Utsumi turned in another ace-worthy performance in game that was far more eventful than even the lopsided final score suggested.
If the Yomiuri Giants can win another game, Bowker, Utsumi and Co. can bet on having a few more wild nights ahead.
Utsumi threw eight strong innings, Bowker hit a two-run home run in the second, Ken Kato incurred the wrath of the crowd in the fourth, and the Giants moved within one game of clinching the title after a 10-2 rout of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Game 5 of the Japan Series on Thursday night at Sapporo Dome.
Yomiuri leads the series 3-2.
“With the series tied 2-2, the fifth game is very pivotal,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “It was important for us to win and keep off the pressure of the sixth game. We got good pitching again from our starter, and the hitters were in good form, unlike last night.”
The series now shifts scenes for the final time and heads back to Tokyo Dome, where the Giants will have a chance to win the title in front of their fans in Game 6 on Saturday night.
“We should be able to wrap up the series in Game 6 in front of our home fans at Tokyo Dome on Saturday night,” Utsumi said.
Nippon Ham can force a decisive seventh game with a victory.
“While we struggled to score runs, we allowed the opponent to extend their lead, and when you do that you give a pitcher like (Utsumi) room to pitch freely,” Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama said.
“But we certainly haven’t given up yet.”
Bowker got the Giants off and running with his two-run homer, which made the score 2-0 in the second. The home run was the second of the series for Bowker, who has driven in seven runs during his debut in the Japanese version of the Fall Classic.
“I fouled off a couple of pitches,” Bowker said. “I was just trying to swing short, see the ball, hit the ball. Keep it simple.”
After hitting .195 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 69 regular-season games, Bowker is batting .333 with two home runs and seven RBIs in eight postseason games.
Five of those RBIs have come off Fighters starter Mitsuo Yoshikawa.
“I know he’s got a really good fastball from our scouting reports,” Bowker said. “So I just went off that.”
Bowker’s night was big, but probably not as memorable as the one Kato had.
Kato stepped to the plate in the fourth with a runner on first and prepared to lay down a sacrifice bunt.
He was on the ground clutching his head moments later after apparently being hit with Kazuhito Tadano’s first pitch, but replays clearly showed the ball sail by without coming close to hitting the Yomiuri catcher.
Home plate umpire Koichi Yanada felt otherwise and ruled Kato had been hit, much to the chagrin of Fighters fans, who were incredulous when it was also announced Tadano had been thrown out of the game for a dangerous pitch.
“I didn’t know what happened,” Kato said.
Tadano is the first pitcher to be tossed from a Japan Series game for a dangerous pitch.
The majority of the 40,579 fans in the crowd hit Kato with a wave of vitriol from the stands in his next at-bat in the fifth, cheering louder for strikes than they had when the Fighters scored runs.
“I would like to do a better job for them,” Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama said. “I hope our players felt the depth of their feelings. We have not given up yet.”
Kato got the last laugh in that frame, hitting a two-run double to left. He singled his next time up.
“I just tried to stay focused,” said Kato.
The Giants were playing their second game without injured catcher Shinnosuke Abe, and Hisayoshi Chono was forced to leave the game after being hit on the knee by Fighters reliever Toshiharu Moriuchi in the fifth inning.
Hayato Sakamoto continued to have a solid series by driving in a pair of runs. Edgar Gonzalez picked up two hits and an RBI in his postseason debut and Kenji Yano was 2-for-4 with an RBI. Tetsuya Matsumoto and Takahiro Suzuki drove in one run apiece.
“I went into the game relaxed,” Gonzalez said. “That surprised me.”
Utsumi started on short rest for the second time during the postseason and benefited from all the run support. Utsumi threw eight innings of two-run ball, allowing seven hits and striking out seven without walking a batter.
“I did not feel much pressure and felt comfortable pitching with four days’ rest,” Utsumi said. “Once we got the lead, I had confidence we would win, so got into a rhythm. Yesterday’s game was scoreless until the 12th inning. I’m glad we didn’t have that kind of a game tonight.”
Yoshikawa made his first-career start on four days’ rest and was far from sharp.
He walked the first batter of the game and five hitters saw at least three balls during their at-bats. Yoshikawa needed 65 pitches to labor through 2 2/3 innings and gave up five runs on six hits in the loss.
“I didn’t get my job done and feel so frustrated,” Yoshikawa said. “I feel so sorry for the team.”
Yoshikawa carried the load in the Fighters’ first season without ace Yu Darvish by winning 14 games, leading the Pacific League with a 1.71 ERA and earning the win in the Climax Series opener, but lost both his Japan Series starts, allowing a combined nine runs in 6 2/3 innings.
“It was just as you saw,” Kuriyama said. “I know he must be so down on himself and there must be so many things going through his mind.
“I believe he can take advantage of this experience. I’m not going to say what it is, but we were only able to come this far because of him.”
Fighters pitcher Yuki Saito took the mound to begin the eighth and gave up a pair of runs on four hits over two innings in his first Japan Series game.
“He’s improved a lot,” Kuriyama said. “He kept running over the summer and he’s better now.”
Yomiuri will be looking to avoid a seventh game when the series resumes on Saturday at the Big Egg.
“We’re going back to Tokyo Dome with a 3-2 lead and have to win only one game, but the Fighters are a good team, so we have to keep playing well to beat them,” Hara said. “The pressure will be on them in Game 6.”