NISHINOMIYA, HYOGO PREF. – The Hanshin Tigers beat the Chunichi Dragons 3-0 on Monday in their final regular-season game to edge the Hiroshima Carp out of third place in the Central League and clinch a spot in the Climax Series.
The Tigers recorded their fourth shutout in five games and rode a six-game winning streak down to the wire to surpass the Carp by half a game and reach the postseason for the first time in two years.
Hanshin starter Koyo Aoyagi (9-9) allowed two hits and struck out five in as many innings, while the Tigers’ lineup worked the Dragons’ bullpen once Yudai Ono left the mound in the fourth.
“It was a game we couldn’t lose, and I kept it together in the rear without giving up a run,” Aoyagi said. “I’m grateful to the fielders for having my back.”
The Tigers’ defense turned two double plays to help Aoyagi extinguish some small fires after letting runners reach in the fourth and fifth innings.
Ono, who pitched a no-hitter against Hanshin earlier this month, retired the first 10 Tigers at Koshien Stadium, but Takuya Mitsuma (2-2) took over with one out in the fourth and immediately botched the effort.
The third-year reliever gave up a hit and a walk before yielding an RBI single to cleanup man Yusuke Oyama, then loaded the bases on another walk and let a second run get through on a wild pitch as Hanshin secured the lead.
“In a game that we had to win, I’m glad I was able to pick up the first run,” Oyama said.
In the fifth, pinch-hitter Hiroki Uemoto singled and scored on a wild pitch from Chunichi rookie Takumi Yamamoto to add the final run.
Hanshin veteran Akifumi Takahashi, who is retiring at the end of the season, started the seventh and coaxed a groundout from Nobumasa Fukuda before exiting to an ovation.
Pierce Johnson retired the side in the eighth and Kyuji Fujikawa closed out the ninth for his 16th save.
The first stage of the Climax Series starts on Saturday, with the Tigers facing the second-place Yokohama BayStars and the Pacific League’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks taking on the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in the race to the Japan Series.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5