This was the realist’s ending.
In the movies, the ball always clears the fence in the bottom of the ninth; scrappy, gritty, underdogs rarely lose; and the hero gets the girl in the end.
Reality, though, has a way of getting in the way of a good narrative sometimes, reminding us that no matter how many times Cinderella crashes the ball, most times, the clock does eventually strike midnight.
So the Yomiuri Giants are heading back to the Japan Series, and the Hiroshima Carp are going home. Because rooting for a happy ending is great, but sometimes the biggest, baddest dog in the yard is just that: bigger and badder. “The Carp came in here holding the momentum but we still managed to win,” said Giants captain Shinnosuke Abe.
“So it was a valuable victory for us. Hopefully, we can take advantage of this experience in the Japan Series.”
The Giants swept the Carp out of the Central League Climax Series Final Stage, sealing the deal with a 3-1 victory on Friday, but victory did not come as easy as the final series tally would suggest. Yomiuri was cognizant of the threat the Carp, buoyed by strong pitching and a revitalized offense, presented and responded accordingly.
Third-place Hiroshima rolled into the final stage on the heels of a surprising sweep of the second-place Hanshin Tigers in the first stage and having won five of their last seven against the Giants.
The Kyojin were also spurred on by memories of last season’s final stage, when the second-place Chunichi Dragons cruised into Tokyo Dome and won three straight, forcing the Giants to win a trio of elimination games in succession in order to reach the Japan Series, which they won over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in six games.
“We had our backs against the wall last year,” Abe said. “It was a pretty tough experience, but that is why we were able to grab the Japan Series title.”
With that memory fresh in their minds, the Giants weren’t interested in being part of the fairy-tale ending to the year the Carp were trying to weave.
Yomiuri rallied from a two-run deficit on Hayato Sakamoto’s game-tying homer in the sixth inning and Shuichi Murata’s RBI single in the seventh for a 3-2 win Game 1; Takayuki Terauchi’s three-run homer was all the offense needed in Game 2, with rookie Tomoyuki Sugano tossing a three-hit shutout; while run-scoring hits by Abe (two RBI singles) and Sakamoto, and a solid performance from Toshiya Sugiuchi on the mound did the trick in the clincher.
“We made the most of our chances,” Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara said after Game 3. “Yesterday, Terauchi hit the game-winning home run and today we did it with timely hits.”
Getting past the Giants, benefactors of a one-game advantage to start the series by virtue of being league champions, was always going to be a tough task for the Carp.
“We know that talent-wise, they’ve (Yomiuri) got more than most teams in this league,” Hiroshima pitcher Bryan Bullington said. “You have to play your best baseball to beat them. Especially in a series set up like this, when you’ve gotta come on the road and win four out of six. It’s a tough challenge. We knew we were going to have to play our best baseball, and we just didn’t get it done.”
Hara was gracious to Hiroshima in victory, while his captain slightly deflected the praise aimed at his own team.
“I don’t know,” Abe said when asked if the Giants had gotten better. “As players, we just try to go all out and do our jobs. Our manager says we are gradually getting stronger, but we should not take those words literally and get cocky.”
Luckily for Hara, they were at least strong enough to toss, and more importantly catch, him 10 times during the traditional doage celebration after the final out of the series.
“I was surprised by such a long doage,” Hara said. “The players seem to have a lot of energy.”