NISHINOMIYA, HYOGO PREF. - Kazuma Okamoto belted two home runs to help the Yomiuri Giants clinch a playoff spot with a 9-4 win over the Hanshin Tigers on Tuesday.
Okamoto broke a 4-4, seventh-inning tie with his 32nd home run of the season. The 22-year-old then put the icing on the Giants’ cake with a two-run shot in the eighth, giving him 100 RBIs for the season.
“I failed to hit my first three times up. Twice my teammates presented me with run-scoring opportunities. I could have opened the scoring in the first and then I could have brought us from behind the second time,” said Okamoto, who opened the game 0-for-3.
“As the leadoff hitter (in the seventh) my focus was just on reaching base, but I’m happy it got out.”
The Giants needed a win at Koshien Stadium in their regular-season finale to clinch the Central League’s third and final playoff spot.
Shinnosuke Abe overturned an early 1-0 deficit with a two-out, two-run double in the third, and the Giants’ lead looked impervious after Daikan Yoh’s two-run, fifth-inning triple, but the Tigers chipped away and tied it in the bottom of the sixth.
Yomiuri, however, untied the game in a hurry against the Tigers’ third pitcher, Kentaro Kuwahara. Okamoto led off the Giants seventh by launching a hanging slider into the distant left-field stands.
Okamoto, the Giants’ top draft pick in 2014 is now the youngest player in Japanese pro baseball history to bat .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs — surpassing Tetsuto Yamada of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, who was nearly a year older when he did it in 2015.
“I was aware I could get to 100 RBIs, but I wanted to put that out of mind and just concentrate on each pitch,” Okamoto said.
But the Giants were not through in the inning. One-out singles by Hisayoshi Chono and Yoh put runners on the corners and catcher Seiji Kobayashi, whose throwing error had brought home the Tigers’ fourth run, made amends with a masterful squeeze bunt.
Casey McGehee doubled in a run in the eighth off Atsushi Mochizuki and scored on Okamoto’s second home run, another long blast to left.
Giants starter Christopher Mercedes allowed four runs — two earned — over 5-1/3 innings, while Tigers right-hander Randy Messenger gave up four earned runs over five innings.
Yomiuri, whose manager Yoshinobu Takahashi has announced he will not return for next season, will begin the postseason at Jingu Stadium on Saturday against the second-place Swallows. The winner of the best-of-three Climax Series first stage, will travel to Hiroshima to take on the league champion Hiroshima Carp.
BayStars 4, Swallows 1
At Jingu Stadium, Neftali Soto all but locked up the CL home run title with his 41st of the season as Yokohama defeated Tokyo Yakult but failed to reach the postseason for the first time in manager Alex Ramirez’s three-year tenure following Yomiuri’s win over Hanshin.