The Yomiuri Giants worked out in a mostly empty Tokyo Dome, with neither fans nor the Hanshin Tigers anywhere in sight. The Big Egg will be rocking the next time they’re in it, as they square off with their oldest rivals for the right to participate in the Japan Series.
Yomiuri practiced for a little over two hours on Tuesday afternoon and will end a long layoff — Yomiuri last played Oct. 5 — on Wednesday when they meet the Tigers in Game 1 of the Central League Climax Series Final Stage. The Giants begin the series with an automatic 1-0 advantage, awarded to the CL pennant winner, with all six games, if necessary, to be played at Tokyo Dome.
There might be a little more spice to the year’s final stage as the Central League’s oldest and fiercest rivalry takes center stage, but Yomiuri went through the usual motions during Tuesday’s practice.
“In the end, we have to win three games,” Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara said of the series.
The Giants were 13-11 against the Tigers this season and won seven of the teams’ final eight meetings. There should be few surprises between two teams that met 24 times during the regular season. Giants reliever Scott Mathieson thinks that, with a few exceptions, things will be the way they always are when the Giants and Tigers get together.
“There’s more pressure,” Mathieson said. “We can’t lose four games, and we have to win three games, so everyone is striving for that. But otherwise it’s the same.”
The Giants were 82-61-1 this year and finished seven games ahead of the second-place Tigers (75-68-1) in the CL standings. They’ll be looking for a third consecutive trip to the Japan Series with a win in the final stage.
The Tigers are in the final stage for the first time since the format was introduced in 2007 and are looking for their first Japan Series title since winning it all in 1985.
Hanshin dispatched the Hiroshima Carp in two games in the first stage to get to this point. The Tigers took Game 1 1-0 and played out a scoreless tie in the decisive second game. Their hitters didn’t do much against Hiroshima; Kosuke Fukudome’s Game 1 solo homer was the only run of the series, but the Hanshin pitchers arrive at Tokyo Dome with a lot of momentum.
“They have good pitching,” Yomiuri’s Jose Lopez said.
Hara declined to name a starter on Tuesday and doesn’t have to under CL rules. With the Tigers doing the same, everyone will be guessing until just prior to the start of the game as to which hurlers will be tasked with getting their team off to a fast start.
Game 1 is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday night.