The Tokyo Yakult Swallows finally landed a knockout blow against Yomiuri Giants pitcher Miles Mikolas. The fact they got some of their own stars going in the process has them sizing up the rest of the Giants for a similar knockdown before everything is said and done.
Swallows starter Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa shut out the Giants for eight innings and Wladimir Balentien sent Mikolas to the showers with a two-run single in the sixth as the Birds bounced back from a loss with a 4-0 win over the Kyojin in Game 2 of the Central League Climax Series on Thursday night at Jingu Stadium.
Yakult, which entered the final stage with an automatic 1-0 advantage, took a 2-1 lead in the series.
“We’ll do our best to win tomorrow and the next day,” Ogawa said. “Our goal is to become Nippon-ichi (Japan’s No. 1). With my teammates and our fan support, there is no doubt we can do it.”
It was a big night for Balentien, who was 0-for-4 in the opener and has struggled at the plate since his late-season return from a thigh injury.
“With the last couple of weeks I’ve had, to have a game like this is big for me,” Balentien said. “It’s gonna get my confidence up.”
Balentien flied out in his first at-bat then ripped off a single, an RBI single and a double in his subsequent trips to the plate to finish 3-for-4 with two RBIs.
Star infielder Tetsuto Yamada also got on base for the first time in the final stage, coming up with a single and a double in four at-bats after going hitless in Game 1.
CL batting champ Shingo Kawabata and Yuhei Takai also each had two hits for Yakult. Kazuhiro Hatakeyama didn’t register a hit but drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
“After today, I hope we carry this moment over to tomorrow and the next day,” Balentien said. “Hopefully we can score a couple of runs and give our pitcher a little more of a break on the mound.”
Ogawa didn’t need much help on Thursday.
Using his distinctive high leg kick, Ogawa didn’t have his best stuff early on, but had enough to keep the Giants from posing much of a threat after he escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second.
“We absolutely could not lose two in a row,” Ogawa said. “Once I took the mound and heard our fans cheering for me, I was able to enjoy pitching tonight. I could feel the fans’ support even more after we got the lead.”
Ogawa scattered five hits, struck out four and walked two. Closer Tony Barnette took over in the ninth and pitched around a hit and a walk to shut the door.
Mikolas faced the Swallows three times during the regular season and was 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA against them. He couldn’t extended his dominance into the postseason, heading to the showers after allowing four runs on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings. Mikolas, who was charged with the loss, had only allowed four runs in 21 innings against Yakult during the regular season.
“It’s just match-ups,” Balentien said. “Some pitchers, you do well against and some pitchers you don’t. But I think we did a great job today.”
Giants infielder Shinnosuke Abe continued his scorching start to the series with three hits after finishing 4-for-5 in Game 1. Soichiro Tateoka had a pair of hits and Hisayoshi Chono had the Giants’ other base knock. Tateoka’s double in the eighth was Yomiuri’s only extra-base hit.
Abe’s first hit got things going in the second, and walks drawn by Chono and Hirokazu Ibata loaded the bases with one out. The first batter with a crack at bringing in a run was catcher Seiji Kobayashi, but he hit a chopper that Ogawa fielded and threw home for the forceout. That brought Mikolas to the plate, and Ogawa fanned the opposing pitcher on three pitches.
Kawabata began the fourth with a single to right and Yamada doubled, leaving Yakult with runners on second and third. Hatakeyama lifted a ball deep to right that was deep enough for Kawabata to score as Yamada also moved up a base. Takai then hit a grounder to first, and Yamada scored easily when Abe threw to third instead of home.
Balentien came to the plate with the bases loaded in the sixth and dropped a 2-2 curveball into shallow center to drive in two runs and make the score 4-0.
“I knew he had to throw something with the bases loaded,” Balentien said. “I knew he had to throw something I could hit. I’m just thankful I could.”
In Game 1, Balentien hit into a bases-loaded double play that Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said was one of the keys to Yomiuri’s victory. Balentien was happy to have turned the tables in Game 2.
“It was the same situation, but I think I was trying to be a little bit more aggressive today than I was last night,” Balentien said. “I think that’s the difference.”