Tomoyuki Sugano grew up wanting to pitch in an important game for the Yomiuri Giants.
The rookie right-hander joined the team to much fanfare this season, and in his first playoff start proved he was worth the wait.
Sugano out-pitched Hiroshima Carp ace Kenta Maeda, and Takayuki Terauchi provided all the support he needed with a three-run home run in the bottom of the third inning as the Giants beat the Carp 3-0 in Game 2 of the Central League Climax Series Final Stage on Thursday night at Tokyo Dome.
“I had a special feeling entering the game,” Sugano said. “It was a must-win game for Hiroshima, and that’s why they started Maeda-san. They had the momentum, but I tried to not be too passive against them.”
The Giants have won the first two games of the series which, coupled with the automatic one-game advantage they have as CL champions, leaves them one win away from advancing to the Japan Series for the second consecutive year.
“I think we can win the Climax Series tomorrow,” Terauchi said. “We have the momentum.”
The Carp made Sugano sweat in the ninth, loading the bases for slugger Brad Eldred with one out.
The 24-year-old pitcher had to be careful of the powerful Eldred, but got the slugger out on a weak popup in foul territory, which left the Carp with two outs.
“It was an aggressive swing,” Eldred said. “He did what he was doing all day. He threw a sinker that started inside, looked like a good pitch you could hit. I started at it, and it rode inside and it probably would’ve ended up being a ball.
“That’s the way it goes. I didn’t get the barrel to it. That’s what he was doing. He was moving the ball away from you and then throwing a sinker in. I was trying to be aggressive. It looked good, so I took a hack at it.”
Sugano then retired Eishin Soyogi on a shallow fly ball to end the game.
“The worst scenario would’ve been to give up a home run,” Sugano said. “So I tried to keep the ball low and I’m pleased I was able to get out of it with a positive result.
“It would’ve been different had I given up a run or two there, but I escaped without giving up anything. That was huge.”
Sugano matched a Climax Series record with 11 strikeouts and threw his first career shutout in the victory. He limited the Carp to singles by Soichiro Amaya, Yoshihiro Maru and Ryosuke Kikuchi and walked one batter.
“It’s difficult to believe my name will go into the record books and I don’t think I can pitch any better than I did tonight,” Sugano said.
The light-hitting Terauchi finished the regular season with two home runs, but got enough of one of Maeda’s sliders in the third to get it over the fence in left field.
“It’s been a while since I hit a home run,” Terauchi said. “I feel like it’s been a couple of years,” he joked.
Terauchi accounted for all Yomiuri’s runs and finished with a pair of hits. Yomiuri’s Yoshiyuki Kamei had the only other multihit night on either side, finishing 2-for-4.
“He has the ability to swing the bat well,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said of Terauchi. “I’m not sure if it was a mistake (by Maeda) or not, but he certainly made good contact.”
The Carp began the series at a disadvantage and really have their backs against the wall now; just one loss away from the end of their season.
“I don’t think you can think about it much,” Eldred said. “Obviously we gotta win four games in a row, which I kind of felt like we almost had to do anyway — we only have six games; you gotta win four of them.
“The chances are still the same. As long as you’re out there playing, you have a chance to win the game.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.