Norihiro Nakamura was having a horrible postseason at the plate.
One swing might’ve changed all that.
Last season’s Japan Series MVP lined a single up the middle in the top of the ninth to drive in the go-ahead run and the Chunichi Dragons defeated the Yomiuri Giants 4-3 in Game 1 of the second stage of the Central League Climax Series at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday night.
“This is a big win for us and should give us momentum going into tomorrow’s game,” Nakamura said.
With the game tied at 3-3, Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara sent in closer Marc Kroon to work the ninth inning. Kroon struck out the first batter, Masahiro Araki, but walked Masahiko Morino and later allowed a two-out single to Kazuhiro Wada.
That set the table for Nakamura’s heroics.
“I did not come through when I had a chance in my third at-bat,” Nakamura said, referring to the fifth inning where he hit into a 5-2-3 inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.
“So I really felt like I had to do something there with two outs in the ninth.”
Dragons closer Hitoki Iwase worked a perfect ninth for his third save of the playoffs.
It was a satisfying win for the Dragons, who came dangerously close to facing a 2-0 series deficit. The Giants entered the series with a 1-0 lead by virtue of winning the CL title.
Yomiuri looked primed to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth with Yoshinobu Takahashi at the plate and the bases full of Giants and one out.
The Yomiuri superstar hit a chopper up the middle, but shortstop Hirokazu Ibata made an excellent play on the ball to turn an improbable 6-3 double play and end the inning.
The victory leaves Chunichi in a good position with the series tied at 1-1 heading into Game 2.
The winner of the seven-game series advances to face the newly crowned Pacific League Climax Series champion Seibu Lions in the Japan Series.
Yomiuri may have suffered another setback due the uncertain status of center fielder Takahiro Suzuki. The outfielder appeared to injure himself while attempting to field Wada’s hit to shallow center.
Suzuki wasn’t able to stand on his own and had to be carried off on a stretcher.
Dragons reliever Masato Kobayashi picked up the win after working the bottom of the eighth but veteran Masahiro Yamamoto did the heavy lifting.
Yamamoto gave the Dragons a decent effort on the mound, allowing three runs on five hits and striking out two in 5 1/3 innings. The 43-year-old was victimized by a home run and a pair of timely Yomiuri singles and did not factor into the decision.
Yomiuri starter Seth Greisinger gave up a pair of homers in the first inning but stayed out of trouble until things got out of hand in the fifth. Greisinger loaded the bases and gave up a run in that frame and left after allowing three runs — two earned — over 4 1/3 innings.
Greisinger struck out six but did not receive a decision. Kroon took the loss after giving up the run in the ninth.
The Dragons didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard, taking a 1-0 lead on Lee Byung Kyu’s leadoff homer in the first. Chunichi struck again later in the inning on Tyrone Woods’ third homer of the postseason to take a two-run lead.
“The home runs by Lee and Woods in the first inning gave us a good start and put it in our heads that we could win,” Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai said.
Yomiuri pulled a run back in the bottom half of the inning on Alex Ramirez’s RBI single up the middle.
Giants right fielder Yoshitomo Tani launched a 2-0 fastball over the left-field wall to tie the score at 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth.
Lee led off the fifth with a single, Masahiro Araki reached on an error and Woods was safe on a fielder’s choice as the Dragons loaded the bases with one away. The next batter, Wada, drew a walk to make the score 3-2 and end Greisinger’s evening.
Reliever Kentaro Nishimura prevented further damage by forcing Nakamura into an inning-ending double play.
Giants second baseman Takuya Kimura came up with a clutch hit in the fifth, lining a ball past Ibata to drive in a run and tie the score.