Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Giants capture first Central League pennant since 2014

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara wrapped an arm about Shinnosuke Abe, one of his longest-serving veterans, as they walked toward the left-field stands at Yokohama Stadium, where their fans were waiting to greet them with rapturous applause.

The pair, who have been through so many years and so many championships, found a way to share a quiet moment amongst the noise as the streamers the fans were dropping onto the field coated the area in front of the wall in a bright shade of orange.

Giants orange. Because it was a Giants night and, for the first time in a long time, a Giants season.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been able to win,” Hara said.

The Kyojin returned to the Central League summit on Saturday night in Yokohama. Daiki Masuda hit a two-out RBI single up the middle in the top of the 10th and closer Rubby De La Rosa retired the side in the bottom half as the Giants clinched the CL pennant with a 3-2 win over the BayStars.

The storied CL franchise won the league title for the 37th time. They hadn’t won since 2014 and clinched this one in the same place they celebrated the last one. Yomiuri, which clinched the first title of the Heisei Era in Yokohama in 1989, is also the first team to win in the Reiwa Era.

“I’m just extremely happy,” said outfielder Yoshihiro Maru, who was part of the Hiroshima Carp teams that won the previous three CL crowns before joining Yomiuri in the offseason. “It was difficult until the end, but I’m just happy to be able to win with this team.”

Hara was also a new addition. The manager was brought back for a third stint with the team this season and tasked with guiding it back to the top. After the job was done, Hara, who led the Giants to seven CL titles and three Japan Series crowns before this season, couldn’t hold back the tears.

“Your tear ducts get a little weaker after you get old,” he joked.

Yomiuri ended this year’s pennant race with a five-game lead over Yokohama, though both teams still have games left.

“Obviously it’s been stressful and exciting,” said Giants reliever Scott Mathieson. “To finally finish it off and clinch, it’s special. It’s a load off. Now we can focus on the Climax Series.

The second-place BayStars nearly put the celebration on hold.

“The BayStars fought until the end,” Hara said when asked about the pennant race.

Yomiuri trailed most of the way on Saturday, falling behind when Tomo Otosaka gave Yokohama the lead with a two-run homer in the third.

Yomiuri pulled a run back on a wild pitch in the seventh to make it 2-1. The Kyojin were down to their final out in the ninth (with runners on first and second) when Seiji Kobayashi hit a two-out RBI single off closer Yasuaki Yamasaki to even the score at 2-2. Yomiuri reliever Kan Otake kept Yokohama off the scoreboard in the ninth to force the game into extra innings.

Yoshiyuki Kamei and Hayato Sakamoto drew walks to begin the 10th against Kazuki Mishima.

The next two batters were retired on fly balls before Masuda, who had entered the game as a pinch runner in the seventh, came through with the biggest hit of the night.

When De La Rosa retired the side in the bottom half, the celebration was on.

“They were very consistent the whole year,” BayStars manager Alex Ramirez said of the Giants. “They had everything they needed to win the championship and they proved it.

“They never gave up. After two outs, they were able to come back and get a win like that. So they deserved it.”

Tigers tame Carp

Nishinomiya Hyogo Pref.

KYODO

Yuki Nishi (9-8) worked eight innings, Fumiya Hojo clubbed a tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning, and 39-year-old Kyuji Fujikawa recorded his 14th save as the Hanshin Tigers beat the Hiroshima Carp 4-2 on Saturday in Central League action.

Dragons 14, Swallows 2

At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Chunichi trounced last-place Tokyo behind six solid innings from Yuya Yanagi (11-6).

PACIFIC LEAGUE

Fighters 8, Hawks 1

At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, Kohei Arihara allowed a run over seven innings, pitching Hokkaido Nippon Ham past Fukuoka SoftBank.

The Hawks started the day in second place, two games back of the defending PL hampion Seibu Lions. SoftBank’s loss dropped Seibu’s magic number to clinch the pennant to three ahead of its night game against the third-place Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Arihara (15-8) gave up just two hits and a walk, while striking out six. He did not allow a hit until Seiichi Uchikawa’s fifth-inning come-backer was deflected for an infield single.

With two outs in the seventh, Nobuhiro Matsuda broke up the right-hander’s shutout bid with a solo homer, his 30th of the season.

Hawks starter Akira Niho (1-4) allowed five base runners to reach in a two-run second inning and gave up three runs over 3-1/3 innings to take the loss in a game that saw the tail end of the Fighters’ batting order drive in six runs.

Buffaloes 3, Marines 1

At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Taisuke Yamaoka (12-4) worked into the eighth inning and Brandon Dickson recorded his 18th save as Orix defeated Chiba Lotte.

Eagles 6, Lions 1

At Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, Kazuya Fujita homered to tie the game and spark a six-run eighth inning as Tohoku Rakuten rallied to beat Seibu.

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