Dragons edge Hawks; series tied 3-3

Chunichi win sets stage for decisive seventh game to crown Japan Series champion


Staff Writer

Standing on the brink of elimination, the Chunichi Dragons couldn’t afford to lose.

So their ace pitcher made sure they didn’t.

Kazuki Yoshimi was dominating on the mound, Kazuhiro Wada provided all the offense with a two-run triple in the first inning, and the Dragons edged the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 2-1 in Game 6 of the Japan Series on Saturday at Yahoo Dome.

“I told you, right? If we won, we would have another game, and if we lost, that would be it,” Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai said. “We won, so there will be another game tomorrow. It’s that simple.”

The Dragons evened the series at three games apiece, meaning the title will be decided in Sunday’s winner-take-all seventh game.

“Tomorrow will be the final game of 2011, and the winner will be the champion,” Ochiai said.

The Dragons should like their chances in Game 7, given that the road team has won all six games of this year’s Japanese Fall Classic.

“This series has been very strange in that the visiting team has won every game, and I hope that will hold tomorrow,” Ochiai said.

Yoshimi didn’t leave anything to chance on the mound as he sliced through the Softbank lineup.

“I went out tonight knowing we could not lose,” Yoshimi said. “I got the lead in the first inning before I even went to the mound, so that made me relaxed and confident.”

Yoshimi threw 7⅔ innings of one-run ball, walking none and striking out eight. The Hawks had no answer for the Chunichi ace, who allowed five hits and at one point retired 12 straight batters.

He was relieved with two outs in the eighth by Hitoki Iwase, who was on the mound for three outs before yielding to Takuya Asao, who retired the final batter to record the save.

Wada did all the damage at the plate for the Dragons. He led both teams with two hits, his first being the two-run triple that was the difference for Chunichi.

“The pitchers really deserve the credit,” Wada said. “We only put up two runs for them, and they were able to hold Softbank to only a run. They are the ones who earned the victory.”

With Yoshimi dealing, the Hawks struggled at the plate. Of their five hits, four were singles, with Yuichi Honda’s fourth-inning triple one of the few encouraging signs of the night.

“The only thing I have to say is tomorrow’s game will be for all the marbles,” Softbank manager Koji Akiyama said. “We’ll do our best.”

Like the Dragons, the Hawks sent their top pitcher, Tsuyoshi Wada, to the mound. But Wada wasn’t nearly as sharp as he was in Game 1 and it came back to haunt him. He took the loss after allowing a pair of runs on four hits in five innings. He struck out three and walked two.

“I at least tried not to allow them to score first,” Wada said. “I feel sorry for the team. That’s the only thing I can say for now.”

Wada began the game by giving up a single to Chunichi shortstop Masahiro Araki, who moved to second on Hirokazu Ibata’s sacrifice bunt.

Tony Blanco drew a walk later in the inning, and Chunichi’s Wada drove both runners in with his triple to right.

“It was a chance to get on the board first and I was fired up,” the Dragons veteran said.

Honda led off the fourth with his triple and Seiichi Uchikawa cut Chunichi’s lead in half with an RBI single.

“I give the credit to Pon (Honda),” Uchikawa said. “We wanted to start a rally as early as possible and we didn’t want to waste the chance. I came up with that mind-set.”

The teams return to Yahoo Dome for the seventh and final game of the Japan Series on Sunday with the first pitch scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

“Our team would really like to win tomorrow for our manager since it will be his last game,” the Dragons’ Wada said. “Our offense has to do better, though.”