The introduction of the Climax Series in the Central League this year gave the Chunichi Dragons a new lease on life and they’re making sure they make the most of it.
Motonobu Tanishige led a 14-hit attack and Kenshin Kawakami got the job done on the mound and at the plate as the Dragons pushed the Yomiuri Giants to the brink of elimination with a 7-4 win on Friday night in front of 45,074 fans at Tokyo Dome.
The Dragons, who in past years would have been automatically shut out of the Japan Series with a second-place finish in the regular season, are now just a win away from a second consecutive appearance in Japan’s version of the Fall Classic.
“You can never take the Giants lightly in this place,” Chunichi slugger Tyrone Woods said. “I think the emotions (of the team) are high. Everybody wants to get it over with. But we’re staying even-keel. The Giants can win three straight very easily.”
Tanishige went 4-for-5 with an RBI and Lee Byung Kyu went 2-for-5, including a triple and a home run, to drive in three runs. Hirokazu Ibata chipped in with two RBIs on a 2-for-5 day to help the Dragons take a commanding 2-0 lead in the second stage of the Central League Climax Series.
It was the second straight multi-hit day for Tanishige, who went 2-for-4 in Game 1, after batting just .235 in the regular season.
Trailing 6-1, the Giants, whose vaunted offense had been held to just three runs in the series’ first 15 innings, rallied with two hits in the seventh before Damon Hollins’ three-run home run to center pulled them within two.
Kawakami started for Chunichi on short rest and was charged with all four runs in seven innings and struck out two. He also helped his cause with a 2-for-2 day at the plate that included two sacrifice bunts.
“It made no difference how many days it’s been since I last pitched,” Kawakami said. “I felt strong and got stronger as the game went on.”
Reliever Shinya Okamoto took over for the Chunichi starter and lasted just 16 pitches before Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai called on star closer Hitoki Iwase, who finished the game.
Now Yomiuri must figure out a way to keep a Dragons lineup that has scored 12 runs in the series’ first two games off the scoreboard tonight in Game 3 in order to keep their season alive.
“We just gotta win tomorrow Hollins said. “If we win tomorrow, then we can focus on the next day.”
Adding to the Giants’ problems is the uncertain status of right fielder Yoshinobu Takahashi. Yomiuri was without the services of the All-Star right fielder after he suffered an ankle injury diving for a foul ball in the ninth inning of Game 1.
The Giants had their chances in Game 2 but were done in by a Dragons defense that turned three double plays and Kawakami, who pitched six innings of one-run ball before giving up three runs in the seventh.
Chunichi shortstop Ibata and second baseman Masahiro Araki were involved in each double play and also teamed up on a nifty play to end the second inning.
With two away, Hiroshi Kisanuki hit a ball up the middle that Araki fielded before he used his glove hand to flip it to Ibata as he passed second. Ibata fired the ball to first to complete the 4-6-3 single play.
“You need to defend well to win ballgames,” Ochiai said.
Kisanuki started for Yomiuri and lasted just 3 2/3 innings after giving up three runs. Chunichi also scored three runs off reliever Kentaro Nishimura in the seventh and added another off Koji Uehara in the ninth.
“Our pitchers were unable to perform tonight as they did during the regular season, but we’ll have to do better tomorrow,” Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara said.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this story.