SENDAI – Sendai celebrated on Monday as the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles advanced to their first Japan Series by clinching the Pacific League Climax Series Final Stage with an 8-5 win in Game 4 over the Chiba Lotte Marines.
The Eagles won the series 4-1 after starting with a one-game advantage as the league champs.
Japan’s youngest franchise, in only its ninth year in existence, will now face the nation’s oldest, the Yomiuri Giants, in the Japan Series, which starts here on Saturday.
Casey McGehee broke a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the seventh with his first home run of the postseason to make a winner of his former Milwaukee Brewers teammate Takashi Saito before 24,264 at Kleenex Stadium in a game that had been postponed after a rainout on Sunday.
The right-handed-hitting McGehee provided the decisive blow in the series’ first slugfest with a homer off Carlos Rosa after the Marines had tied it in the top of the inning. The Eagles tacked on two runs in the bottom of the eighth on back-to-back RBI singles by Kazuya Fujita and Ginji Akaminai.
Ace Masahiro Tanaka, who threw a shutout in Game 1, closed it out in the ninth. Tanaka, who went 24-0 in the regular season and earned his only save in the Eagles’ pennant-clinching game on Sept. 26, allowed two hits for the save and was named the series MVP.
Marines starter Yuki Karakawa gave up three runs in 1⅔ innings, with two runs coming in the second after a defensive lapse cost Lotte a chance to end the inning with a double play.
With one out and runners on the corners in a 1-0 game, second baseman Shunichi Nemoto couldn’t make up his mind which base to throw to, allowing Rakuten’s second run to score. Akaminai followed with a single off rookie Takahiro Matsunaga to make it 3-0.
Andruw Jones opened the scoring with a sacrifice fly in the first, when Rakuten could manage just one run despite loading the bases with no outs against Karakawa, who allowed three hits, two walks and hit a batter.
The Marines turned the game around in the fourth on a three-run homer by G.G. Sato. Back-to-back hits to open the inning by Ikuhiro Kiyota and Tadahito Iguchi set up Lotte’s first run, when Toshiaki Imae hit an RBI grounder off lefty Wataru Karashima.
With two outs and two on, the seldom-used, right-handed-hitting Sato pulled a 1-1 fastball into the stands off the lefty to make it 4-3 Marines. Sato had belted a grand slam off the lefty on Aug. 24.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Jones connected with one of his big swings for a two-run homer, his second long ball of the series in the bottom half.
Matsunaga got two quick outs in the home half of the inning before walking Akaminai on four pitches. Marines skipper Tsutomu Ito brought in right-hander Yuji Nishino to face Jones and Lotte’s lead evaporated as Jones blasted a first-pitch fastball well back among the fans in left.
Karashima left after allowing four runs on four hits and a walk over four innings. The lefty struck out three.
Rakuten right-hander Kenny Ray kept Lotte off the board in the fifth and sixth. On the other side, Nishino retired all seven batters he faced after Jones took him deep.
The Marines tied it in the seventh against southpaw Kohei Hasebe on Nemoto’s RBI single.
Rakuten rookie Takahiro Norimoto, who started and allowed a run in nine innings in Game 2′s extra-inning defeat, worked a scoreless eighth.