Second-year pitcher Yudai Ono was asked to go into a stadium in which he’d only won once, to face a team that’d beaten him up in his last two outings all while trying to help the Chunichi Dragons avoid a 2-0 deficit in the Central League Climax Series final stage.
Piece of cake, right?
Ono rose to the challenge, his teammates provided just enough run support, and the Dragons swept into Tokyo Dome and beat the Yomiuri Giants 3-1 in Game 1 of their series.
“It’s a victory for everyone on our team,” Ono said.
The Giants entered the series with an automatic one-game advantage as the league champions. When things resume Thursday night at the Big Egg, the series will be tied 1-1.
“It’s a good feeling to win the first game,” Dragons manager Morimichi Takagi said. “Ono did a great job for us tonight, going into the sixth inning with the lead.”
Chunichi’s Yohei Oshima opened the scoring with an RBI single in the third, and Ryosuke Hirata broke a 1-1 tie with an RBI double in the sixth.
Motonobu Tanishige tacked on an insurance run, while also snapping a long streak of postseason futility, with an RBI double in the ninth. Tanishige had been hitless in his previous 60 postseason appearances dating back to the 2010 Japan Series.
“Hirata and Tanishige got the key hits tonight,” Takagi said. “Oshima too, but Tanishige’s double put the game away for us.”
Despite announcing starting pitchers prior to regular-season games for the first time this season, the CL opted to reverse course for the Climax Series.
That created a bit of speculation about who would be the starter, though many reporters had correctly pegged Ono as the man for the job.
“We used a lot of pitchers during the Climax Series first stage, so I am happy I was chosen to start this game and I did my best,” Ono said.
He also managed to retire Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe three times. Abe had gone 3-for-5 with a home run against Ono during the regular season. “I though Abe had a hit in his second at-bat, but Ibata made a nice catch on that line drive to shortstop,” Ono said.
The 24-year-old Ono threw 5⅔ innings of one-run ball, striking out three and walking three to earn the win. Reliever Shinji Tajima recorded the last out of the sixth and worked a scoreless seventh before making way for 2011 CL MVP Takuya Asao.
Asao retired the side in order in the eighth, and Daisuke Yamai shut down Yomiuri in the ninth.
“Our bullpen was superb,” Ono said. “The relievers backed me up and secured the win for me.”
Giants outfielder Yoshinobu Takahashi finished with a pair of hits and drove in the home team’s only run with an RBI single in the fourth. Yomiuri’s hitters managed only five singles against the Dragons pitchers.
“We have to score more than one run to beat the Dragons,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “Our goal for tomorrow will be to put more runs on the board.”
Lefty Tetsuya Utsumi, who led the CL with 15 wins, allowed a pair of runs on five hits over six innings. Utsumi took the loss, striking out four and walking three.
Dragons shortstop Hirokazu Ibata connected on a one-out single, and Kazuhiro Wada drew a walk to give Chunichi runners at first and second in the sixth with the score knotted 1-1.
Utsumi struck out Tony Blanco for the second out of the inning, but Hirata looped a double into left that brought Ibata home with the go-ahead run.
Dragons third baseman Masahiko Morino hit a one-out single in the ninth and came home when Tanishige doubled down the left-field line.
The Dragons will aim to take the lead in the series when the two teams meet in Game 2 on Thursday.
“We’re tied now,” Blanco said. “That’s a great thing to say. This is going to be a good series.”