The Yomiuri Giants survived a few close calls in a tense game that could’ve gone either way to keep their season alive.
Their reward is a chance to do it all over again.
Starter Kazuto Taguchi and reliever Scott Mathieson kept the Giants in the game long enough for Hisayoshi Chono to make the difference with tiebreaking RBI single in the eighth, as Yomiuri avoided elimination by beating the Yokohama BayStars 2-1 in Game 2 of the Central League Climax Series First Stage on Sunday.
The Giants evened the best-of-three series at 1-1. Game 3 is scheduled for Monday afternoon at Tokyo Dome, with the first-stage winner advancing to the final stage against the CL champion Hiroshima Carp. The Giants can advance with a tie in Game 3, while the BayStars will have to win.
“Our season is not over yet,” Taguchi said. “We need to win tomorrow. I hope to pitch again in the final stage.”
A wild pitch that allowed a BayStar to score and a solo homer by Yomiuri captain Hayato Sakamoto were the only runs on the board entering the eighth inning. Sakamoto led off the frame with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. Chono drove him in with a two-out single to center to the delight of half of the 45,683 fans packed into Tokyo Dome.
Chono got the chance to be the hero because the BayStars gave left-handed hitting Shinnosuke Abe a free pass so righty reliever Tomoya Mikami could face the right-handed hitting Chono.
“I was fortunate to come up at an opportune time,” Chono said. “After they walked Abe, I felt the pressure to get a hit with two outs. As soon as I hit the ball, I could see it was going to drop in, so I knew we would score.”
Mathieson, who pitched two innings and was credited with the win, closed the door on the BayStars in the ninth, though not without a long out that looked as if it might become a home run, and another near homer that went foul.
“Chono has done a good job for us all year,” Giants manager Yoshinobu Takahashi said. “I was very confident he would come through for us in that situation.”
A pitcher’s duel featuring a pair of young left-handers ended with neither getting a decision.
Taguchi, a third-year pitcher, gave the Giants seven innings of one-run ball. He struck out six and walked three before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh. Taguchi allowed his only run on a wild pitch. He escaped a bases-loaded situation in the third and benefited from great defensive plays by Sakamoto at shortstop and second baseman Yasuhiro Yamamoto to get out of the sixth.
“This is the first time for me to pitch in the Climax Series,” Taguchi said. “I was very nervous at first, but I felt the fans cheering for us and I was able to calm down.”
On the other side, BayStars rookie Shota Imanaga pitched one-run ball through seven innings, striking out eight and walking four. The home run he gave up to Sakamoto represented the only time he allowed a Giants player to advance past second base.
“He did a tremendous job today,” BayStars manager Alex Ramirez said. “More than what I expected and probably everybody expected. He did his part.”
The pitching on both sides kept both offenses in check. The Giants managed just four hits, two coming from Sakamoto who had a home run and a double. Sakamoto had three hits in Game 1, connecting on a home run and two singles.
“He’s swinging the bat pretty well,” said Ramirez, who was Sakamoto’s teammate from 2008-2011 with the Giants. “He hits inside, he hits outside, he’s in his best time right now.”
The BayStars finished with five hits, with Toshihiko Kuramoto connecting on a pair.
The BayStars took an early lead in Game 2.
One-out singles by Hiroyuki Shirasaki and Kuramoto set up the BayStars with runners on the corners in the second. Taguchi struck out Yasutaka Tobashira for the second out but his wild pitch with Imanaga at the plate allowed Shirasaki to score the game’s first run.
Yokohama tried to add to the lead in the third. Masyuki Kuwahara led off the frame with a single and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo drew a two-out walk. Toshiro Miyazaki walked to load the bases, but Taguchi struck out Shirasaki to keep the Giants within a run.
That allowed Sakamoto to tie the score with his solo home run in the bottom half of the third.
There weren’t many scoring chances on either side until Yomiuri pulled ahead for good in the eighth.
“It was a really good game today,” Ramirez said. “We did what we could. Our pitching staff did a really good job. We just came up short.”
The teams will meet in the third and deciding game on Monday, with the first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m.
“Now it’s up to us to win tomorrow and set up a trip to Hiroshima,” Chono said.
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