There may not have been a better story in Japanese baseball this season than the rise of the Hiroshima Carp.
There may not be a better team than the Yomiuri Giants.
Captain Shinnosuke Abe drove in a pair of runs and starter Toshiya Sugiuchi sliced through the Carp lineup as the Giants swept the Central League Climax Series Final Stage with a 3-1 win over the Carp on Friday night at Tokyo Dome.
The Kyojin began the series with an automatic one-game advantage as the league champions and won all three games played on the field to advance to the Japan Series for the second consecutive year.
“We have won the Climax Series, beating a strong Hiroshima Carp team and have won the right to represent the Central League in the Japan Series,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “We’ll do our best to win it again and fight until the end.”
Yomiuri will face the winner of the Pacific League Final Stage, either the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles or Chiba Lotte Marines, in the Japanese Fall Classic with a chance to win consecutive titles for the first time in 40 years.
Giants pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano, who struck out 11 in a three-hit shutout in Game 2, was named CL Climax Series MVP.
“I can’t believe I am given this honor as a rookie,” Sugano said. “This will without a doubt be one of the most unforgettable moments in my pro baseball career.”
Game 3 was the end of the line for the Carp, who played postseason baseball for the first time in 22 years and swept past the Hanshin Tigers in the first stage.
“Our guys really did well,” Hiroshima manager Kenjiro Nomura said. “While we lost some veteran players entering the season, we still managed to come all the way here.”
Unlike last season, when the Chunichi Dragons nearly swept the Kyojin out of the Big Egg in the final stage, the Giants ended things quickly and bought themselves a few extra days of rest ahead of the Japan Series.
“We spent a lot of time getting ourselves prepared,” Hara said. “Last year’s experience certainly helps us. So we were able to enter the series in good condition and it ended up working out well.”
Yomiuri got out of the Climax Series with relative ease, but Abe warned there would be tougher days ahead.
“I think our pitching and offense came through, but there’s no way it’s going to be like this in the Japan Series,” Abe said. “We are ready for a tough battle and hopefully we leave as winners in the end.”
Yomiuri closer Kentaro Nishimura shut the door on the Carp in the ninth with his second save of the series, and the Giants celebrated by tossing Hara into the air 10 times during the traditional doage celebration.
“Next up is the Japan Series,” Sugiuchi said. “I want to go there and win and give the manager another doage.”
An injury kept Sugiuchi out of the Climax Series last season, his first with the Giants after spending 10 years in Fukuoka with the Hawks franchise.
“I wasn’t nervous, but I was trying to make up for last year,” Sugiuchi said.
He was present and accounted for this time, and kept the Carp off balance after a shaky first inning.
“Compared to the first inning, I was a lot better in the third and fourth innings,” Sugiuchi said. “My slider and change-up got better. Besides, I had so many flyouts today and that’s how I get outs.”
The Yomiuri lefty walked the first batter of the game and gave up an RBI single later in the inning. Sugichi gave up only a third-inning double to Yoshihiro Maru the rest of the way, retiring the final 14 batters he faced.
“We hit him tough the last two times he’s pitched against us, so I think the guys felt good facing him,” Carp outfielder Brad Eldred said. “When we got that run early on, I thought we might have a chance to do it again.
“He settled in and he really hit some good spots, got some good calls that went his way. You can’t really say much. He just went out there and did his job.”
Overall, Sugiuchi threw seven innings of one-run ball, striking out six and walking one.
Abe delivered RBI singles in the third and fifth innings to finish 2-for-4.
“I’m relieved I could come up with some important hits in clutch situations, but overall, I wasn’t that good in these three games,” Abe said.
Hayato Sakamoto drove in the Giants’ other run with an RBI double in the fourth.
Eishin Soyogi’s RBI single in the first was all the offense the Carp could muster in support of losing pitcher Yusuke Nomura, who was charged with two runs on five hits over four innings.
“They are a good team, and they can find a way to win when it matters most,” Nomura said.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report