The Yomiuri Giants were at a one-game disadvantage before the first pitch was even thrown in the Central League Climax Series final stage.
So there was little time to waste once the balls actually started flying for real.
Hayato Sakamoto hit a come-from-behind two run home run in the fifth and Leslie Anderson knocked in a pair of insurance runs in the sixth as the Giants beat the Swallows 4-1 in Game 1 of the final stage on Wednesday night at Jingu Stadium.
Yakult entered the series with an automatic one-game advantage as the CL pennant winner. Yomiuri’s win evened the series at 1-1. Game 2 is scheduled for Thursday night at Jingu Stadium.
“This is a big win, but it’s only one,” Sakamoto said. “We are even now, but we can’t let up. We have to keep the momentum going tomorrow and throughout the series.”
Yakult will be looking for a way to reclaim the advantage when the two teams meet again.
“Tomorrow we gotta win,” Swallows reliever Orlando Roman said. “We gotta go out there and win. We have to do our best and beat them.”
Yakult’s pitchers had Sakamoto’s number during the regular season (the Yomiuri shortstop hit .161 against them). The Giants captain was only 1-for-5 on Wednesday, but his one hit, which came with a man on second and his team trailing by a run, turned out to be the biggest of the night.
“The count was 3-1, so I was looking for a good pitch to hit,” Sakamoto said. “I got a high strike and was able to put a good swing on it and hit it out to give us the lead.”
Sakamoto also caught a flare hit by Yakult’s Shingo Kawabata in the seventh inning, robbing the CL batting champion of an RBI late in the game.
Anderson only came to the plate once, as a pinch hitter for reliever Seiji Tahara in the sixth, but delivered on short notice, hitting a single to right that brought in two runs.
Yomiuri’s Shinnosuke Abe had a strong showing in the opener, collecting four hits in five trips to the plate. Yoshiyuki Kamei also had a multihit night for the Kyojin, finishing 2-for-4.
Giants manager Tatsunori Hara gave the Game 1 start to lefty Tetsuya Utsumi, who was limited to five starts during the regular season due to injury. He overcame a shaky start to throw 4⅔ innings of one-run ball. The only mistake he really paid for was a ball to Kazuhiro Hatakeyama that caught too much of the plate and was belted into the stands beyond the left-field wall.
“Utsumi did a good job tonight, only giving up one run,” Sakamoto said.
He pitched himself into a world of trouble in the first, with the bases loaded, one out, and Wladimir Balentien at the plate. Utsumi managed to escape unscathed when Balentien hit into a double play.
“The key to tonight’s win was when we got Balentien to hit into a double play in the first inning,” Hara said. “That kept the Swallows off the scoreboard and gave us the confidence that it could be a good night.”
Tetsuya Yamaguchi pitched two innings of scoreless relief and was credited with the victory. Hirokazu Sawamura kept Yakult off the board in the ninth to record the save.
Yakult starter Masanori Ishikawa allowed two runs on five hits over five innings in the loss. The lefty struck out three and walked three.
The Swallows were given a bye in the first-stage of the Climax Series and were playing for the first time since Oct. 4, when they lost to the Giants in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Hatakeyama led the way for Yakult, going 2-for-4 with a solo home run. Kawabata, this year’s CL batting champion, also had a pair of hits. Tetsuto Yamada, the favorite to be crowned CL MVP later this fall, was 0-for-4.
The Swallows took a 1-0 lead on Hatekeyama’s solo homer in the fourth, but Yomiuri surged ahead on Sakamoto’s two-run shot in the fifth.
Shuichi Murata, who fouled a ball off his leg earlier in the game, picked up another bruise after being hit by Roman’s first pitch of the sixth inning. Kamei followed with a single and Kensuke Kato laid down a bunt to advance the runners to second and third. Anderson then provided a little breathing room with a two-run single to right that made the score 4-1.
The first pitch of Game 2 is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Jingu Stadium on Thursday.
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