The BayStars turned the music up. Way up. It didn’t matter that a wall separated the clubhouse from the room where manager Alex Ramirez was meeting with the media after a triumphant showing in the first stage of the Central League Climax Series on Monday. You could still hear the players shouting and the music blasting loud and clear.
There was plenty of reason for it. Just a few minutes earlier, outfielder Taiki Sekine had reached up and caught a hard-hit ball from Yomiuri’s Shinnosuke Abe, one that looked destined to end Yokohama’s season when it came off Abe’s bat with two on and two out in the bottom of the 11th.
Instead, Sekine snagged it in front of the wall and the BayStars were on to the final stage of the Climax Series with a 4-3 extra-inning win in the third and decisive game of the first stage.
Making it to the final stage is no small step for the BayStars. The team hadn’t won anything since capturing the Japan Series in 1998, and its last winning regular season came in 2001. Now they’re first-stage winners, a tangible triumph that can be held up as a marker and holds more weight than a moral victory.
Game 3 was postseason baseball at its finest, an 11-inning thriller that could’ve gone either way at any time. The BayStars’ Jose Lopez and the Giants’ Abe traded two-run homers in the first inning. Sekine put the BayStars ahead with a sacrifice fly in the second, but Shuichi Murata tied it for the Giants with a home run in the sixth. The final run came on a single in the 11th by Hiroki Minei, who flipped his bat and ran to first as the tiebreaking run crossed the plate.
It was the kind of game the BayStars of the past might’ve let slip away
That they did it on the road, and in Tokyo Dome against the Giants no less, is another feather in their caps. Not that any of the three games felt like a true road contest. BayStars fans poured into the Big Egg over the long weekend and were so loud and passionate in their support they drowned out the home fans at times.
“Unbelievable support from the fans,” Ramirez said. “They did a tremendous job. It felt like they were a part of the team, like they were on top of our dugout. Unbelievable job from the fans.”
Ramirez had a pretty good series himself. In his first postseason in the dugout, the rookie manager pushed all the right buttons. He was flexible at some positions, adhering not to seniority or status, but simply to who gives the team the best chance to win at any given point. He handled his relievers well and was rewarded with a solid performance all three nights.
It helps that he knows what his players are going through, having been to the Climax Series four times himself as a player. But Ramirez acknowledged it was different to go through it in the dugout.
“You cannot compare this feeling to even when I was a player,” he said. “This moment, you cannot explain.”
Yokohama can reflect on its gains later, but its season isn’t over just yet.
The BayStars face a much tougher test in the final stage against the Hiroshima Carp, who finished the season 17½ games ahead of the second-place Giants in the pennant race. That series begins Wednesday at Mazda Stadium, and the Carp will have an automatic 1-0 lead as the pennant winner.
Ramirez says his team will be ready.
“We’re going to fight right from the beginning,” Ramirez said. “We want to bring it home to our people. We’re going to do our best to advance to the Nippon Series.”