NISHINOMIYA, HYOGO PREF. – Bryan Bullington won a pitching duel against Randy Messenger and Brad Eldred had the big hit and made a stellar catch in left field as the Hiroshima Carp advanced to the final stage of the Central League’s Climax Series with a 7-4 win over the Hanshin Tigers on Sunday.
The third-place Carp won the best-of-three series against the second-place Tigers 2-0 to set up a meeting against the CL-champion Yomiuri Giants starting on Wednesday at Tokyo Dome.
“It feels great; this was a good series, we pitched well, we hit well so now it’s exciting to head to Tokyo and see what we can do,” said Eldred, who played in the majors for the Detroit Tigers last season.
“For me I’m just trying my best to help the team win, take good swings and hit the ball hard. Luckily, I was put in good situations to help us win.”
The never-give-up Tigers came close to rallying for their diehard fans when Shinjiro Hiyama hit a two-run homer in the ninth, but it was too little, too late at Koshien Stadium.
“The team really came together and fought,” said Carp manager Kenjiro Nomura. “It’s all because they faithfully did their jobs. Against the Giants we will be the challengers, so we want to go for broke against them.”
Tsuyoshi Nishioka led off the bottom of the first with a home run to center to give Hanshin a 1-0 lead, but that would be Bullington’s only hit allowed as he went on to decimate the Tigers lineup over seven strong innings.
Former Oakland Athletics slugger Kila Ka’aihue, who hit a tiebreaking three-run homer in Hiroshima’s Game 1 win, tied the score with a one-out, RBI double in the sixth following a Ryosuke Kikuchi leadoff double to center.
Ka’aihue reached third on a wild pitch and strutted home on Eldred’s single to left that scooted by diving third baseman Katsuhiko Saka to give a 2-1 Hiroshima lead.
“After Kila came through to tie it up we had two outs, and I had a chance to put us ahead,” Eldred said. “I was looking for a good pitch and the first pitch was a pretty good pitch to hit and I got it through the infield.”
In the bottom of the second, Eldred made a fine leaping grab at the wall on Akihito Fujii’s fly ball, then made a pinpoint throw to the infield to double up Saka who failed to get back to first in time to end the inning.
“He hit the ball well and I got a good jump on it to get back. The only chance I had was to jump up and get it. Luckily I’m tall enough and was able to reach up and grab it and throw the ball in to double the guy up,” said Eldred.
Hiroshima tacked on another run in the seventh.
Yoshihiro Maru walked to open the inning and reached second on a bunt, leading to an Eishin Soyogi one-out RBI triple. Tetsuya Kokubo got in on the action with a pinch-hit, two-run triple to highlight a three-run eighth.
The Tigers hit back with an RBI single by Kohei Shibata in the bottom half, but Hiroshima added the seventh run on Shinobu Fukuhara’s wild pitch in the top of the ninth.
Matt Murton singled with two outs in the bottom of the inning and Hiyama took Hiroshima closer Kam Mickolio for a ride over the right field wall, but Takahiro Arai struck out in the next at-bat to end it.
Messenger allowed two runs on seven hits in 5⅔ innings of the loss.
“We were on the defensive the whole time so it’s disappointing. The players gave it their all, but in the end we weren’t able to use our strengths to our advantage. I take full responsibility,” said Hanshin skipper Yutaka Wada. “We have to start once again training ourselves physically and mentally for next year.”
As the league champions, the Giants will have a one-win advantage in the final stage. The first team to four wins will advance to the Japan Series starting Oct. 26.