Without hesitation, the Swallows sent their Giants killer to the mound for Saturday’s postseason series opener, but it did not work out the way they had hoped.
Instead, the Giants who came through, scoring key late runs and relying on solid pitching in their 4-1 win over Tokyo Yakult in Game 1 of the Central League Climax Series first stage at Jingu Stadium on Saturday night.
As a result, third-seeded Yomiuri needs one more one victory to advance to the final round against the league champion Hiroshima Carp.
With the Giants up 2-1 in the seventh, Daikan Yoh drove first-base runner Hisayoshi Chono home with a no-out double off starter Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa, who had eight straight winning decisions against the Giants.
Yomiuri added anther run in the same inning as Swallows second baseman Tetsuto Yamada could not catch a shallow flyball hit by pinch hitter Yoshiyuki Kamei, who managed it off southpaw Dave Huff.
“Chono got on base leading off, so I was able to step up to the plate in a good rhythm,” Yoh said, reflecting on the two-run seventh after the game. “It was a hit-and-run play. Chono ran well.”
Kamei said of his lucky RBI hit: “I tried to make contact with the ball. No matter how I did it, I felt relieved that I could contribute to giving us a run.”
Yakult’s potent bats did not strike fire and the team managed only four hits against four Giants hurlers.
Nobutaka Imamura, a fifth-year lefty who posted a career-high six wins this year, allowed one run while working a solid 4 2/3 innings as the Giants starter. Relievers Koji Uehara, Seishu Hatake and Shun Yamaguchi were nearly perfect, giving up no runs and one hit and fanning five.
“I could pitch in positive tension,” Imamura said. “I tried to pitch as hard as I could from the beginning and feel great I held them to just one run.”
Uehara, a former closer and 2013 World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox, earned his first NPB win, regular season or postseason, since the 2008 Climax Series in his first stint with Yomiuri.
“Competing in a playoff game, you are not going to complain no matter how big of a lead you have,” Uehara said of the big two runs in the seventh. “And for us the pitchers, we want to allow as few runs as possible. I think we did that well overall today.”
Yamaguchi recorded a save.
Ogawa took the loss for the Swallows.
The Giants scored first on a Kazuma Okamoto sacrifice fly in the first. But the Swallows tied it in the next frame on Yuhei Nakamura’s RBI double.
Yomiuri regained the lead in the third, when captain Hayato Sakamoto belted a solo homer.
Right-handers Juri Hara (6-7 this season ) and Tomoyuki Sugano (15-8) will take the mound as the Game 2 starting pitchers for the Swallows and Giants, respectively. It will start at 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Asked what kind of message he would want to relay to Sugano, the CL’s winningest pitcher (15) who had the most complete-game shutouts (eight) this season, Uehara said with a joke: “Please pitch by yourself.”