NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo Pref. — The ball was working its way out of Hayato Sakamoto’s glove in the eighth inning as a bases-loaded jam was about to turn into a full-on disaster.
Sakamoto didn’t let it slip away, and neither did the Yomiuri Giants.
Sakamoto homered, Michihiro Ogasawara drove in a pair of runs and the Yomiuri bullpen held on late as the Giants edged the Hanshin Tigers 3-1 in Game 1 of the first stage of the Central League Climax Series on Saturday at Koshien Stadium.
The Giants can advance to the final stage of the CL Climax Series with a victory in Game 2 on Sunday.
“We will try to be as focused as we were today,” Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara said. “Tomorrow is probably going to be another close game.”
Ogasawara had a pair of RBI singles on a 3-for-3 night to help the Giants defeat Tigers starter Atsushi Nomi for the first time in six tries this year.
Sakamoto finished 2-for-4 and drove in a run. He homered in the third and helped set up a run in the fifth after hitting a double and advancing to third after an error on the same play. Ogasawara drove him in later in the inning.
“It came on the payoff pitch,” Sakamoto said of his home run. “I could’ve walked, but staying aggressive is my style.
“So I just tried to make contact and ended up getting the best possible result.”
He made the biggest play of the game with his glove.
The Giants were clinging to a 3-1 lead with two away in the eighth, the bases full of Tigers, and slugger Craig Brazell in the batter’s box to face reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi.
Brazell hit a broken-bat flare that looked like it might get over Sakamoto’s head and land in the outfield.
The Giants shortstop strafed backward and reached up to make the catch, controlling the ball as it shifted dangerously in his glove for a moment.
“Brazell got jammed, and Sakamoto was quick and he made a good catch,” Hara said.
Hara also had to be pleased with his pitchers after the up-and-down year Yomiuri had on the mound.
Starter Shun Tono gave up a homer in the second, but strung together five innings of one-run ball for the win. He allowed a pair of hits and struck out three.
Yomiuri then got four scoreless innings out of Dicky Gonzalez, Yuya Kubo and Yamaguchi, who got the save. The quartet allowed only three hits, though Gonzalez and Kubo issued back-to-back walks in the eighth, which almost helped spark a Hanshin rally.
The Giants pitchers were also aided by an athletic grab in center by outfielder Tetsuya Matsumoto as well as a few other heads-up plays in the field.
“In defense, some players made very good plays and that helped the pitchers,” Hara said. “They were in sync.”
Nomi lost for the first time this season, allowing three runs — two earned — on seven hits, striking out five and walking three. The Giants made Nomi work for everything and he ended up throwing 111 pitches in just five innings of work. Yomiuri’s five pitchers combined to throw 133 for the entire game.
Brazell got the Tigers off to a fast start, sending the first pitch he saw into the seats to put Hanshin ahead 1-0 in the second.
Sakamoto answered in the top of the third with his homer to left. The next batter, Yoshiyuki Kamei, singled and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. Ogasawara drove him in with his first RBI single to put Yomiuri on top.
Ogasawara added his second RBI single in the fifth to make the score 3-1.