The Yomiuri Giants finally managed to cage the Hanshin Tigers once and for all.
Next up is a good old-fashioned Tokyo showdown against their crosstown rivals, the Yakult Swallows.
“Bring ’em on,” Giants pitcher Aaron Poreda said.
Shinnosuke Abe picked up a pair of RBIs, Poreda and two relievers held the Tigers in check (despite a late scare) and the Giants beat Hanshin 3-1 in front of a crowd of 46,067 on Monday at Tokyo Dome to win the Central League Climax Series first stage, two games to one.
“Hanshin is a good team and I know this was the last game for (Kentaro) Sekimoto,” Abe said. “They played well and I’m glad we were able to hang on and win.”
The Kyojin move on to the final stage of the Climax Series, where they’ll face the Swallows for the right to represent the CL in the Japan Series. Yakult will have an automatic 1-0 lead (due to winning the pennant) in that series, which begins Wednesday at Jingu Stadium.
“We have one more series to win before we can bring the Japan Series back to Tokyo Dome. I hope we can do that for our fans,” Abe said.
While the Giants move on to Jingu, the Tigers’ season is over.
“You just gotta give those guys credit,” Hanshin’s Matt Murton said. “Obviously we weren’t able to put anything together offensively. They did a great job pitching today. I think our pitchers did a pretty good job.
“We gave ourselves a chance late in the game; that’s all you can ask for. They made the pitches when they had to.”
The result also spells the end of Yutaka Wada’s tenure as Hanshin manager. Wada announced last month he would step down after the Tigers’ season ended. The team is rumored to be trying to lure former star Tomoaki Kanemoto into the dugout. Kanemoto was at Tokyo Dome calling the game for Nippon Television on Monday.
The Giants were facing elimination themselves after losing Game 2. Manager Tatsunori Hara put the season in Poreda’s hands in Game 3. Poreda said, while he didn’t alter his normal approach prior to the game, he understood the magnitude of the moment.
“I was excited,” he said. “Nerves were running high. It was a big game. It was all or nothing. I knew what was at stake and I just tried to stay focused and be aggressive and let my teammates support me.”
Poreda allowed one run on three hits in six-plus innings. He struck out five and didn’t walk a batter.
“One of my goals was not to walk anyone,” Poreda said. “I think that was big for me.”
He was throwing a shutout until Kosuke Fukudome led off the seventh inning with a home run to right.
“Maybe I should’ve thrown a different pitch or to a different location,” Poreda said of the home run ball. “In the end, I wanted to be aggressive and I went right at Fukudome, and you have to tip your cap. He hit a good pitch and he crushed it. Thank goodness it was only one run.”
Scott Mathieson took over from there and retired all six batters he faced in the seventh and eighth frames. Closer Hirokazu Sawamura earned the save by keeping Hanshin off the board in the ninth.
The Tigers made him sweat, putting runners on second and third with one out. Sawamura struck out Mauro Gomez for the second out and then got Murton to ground out to end the game.
“I hit it hard,” Murton said of the game’s final pitch. “It just went right to the shortstop. It easily could’ve found a hole. It’s just the way the game goes. It’s part of baseball.”
Abe was responsible for two of the Giants’ runs, driving in one with a sacrifice fly and another with an RBI single. Hayato Sakamoto scored Yomiuri’s other run by coming home with a head-first dive into the plate on a wild pitch.
“I decided to hit like (former Giants player Noriyoshi) Omichi and shorten my grip on the bat and my swing,” Abe said. “It paid off today.”
Soichiro Tateoka reached base three times, collecting a single, triple and drawing a walk in four trips to the plate.
Hanshin starter Atsushi Nomi wasn’t as sharp as usual but kept the damage to a minimum, allowing just one run on three hits over five innings. Nomi was charged with the loss.
Yomiuri added a pair of insurance runs against reliever Minoru Iwata in the sixth inning.
The Giants can now look forward to the final stage series against the Swallows, who they were 13-12 against during the regular season.
“We were able to win a ticket to Jingu Stadium to face the Swallows, and I look forward to playing and winning there,” Abe said.