YOKOHAMA – Anyone who thought the Hanshin Tigers used all nine lives just to make it into the Central League Climax Series was mistaken.
They clearly have a few more left up their sleeves.
Hanshin took advantage of a pair of costly wild pitches, Ryutaro Umeno broke an eighth-inning tie with a sacrifice fly and 39-year-old reliever Kyuji Fujikawa worked the eighth and ninth innings as the Tigers edged the Yokohama BayStars 2-1 in the third and decisive game of the CLCS First Stage on Monday night at Yokohama Stadium.
“The BayStars have an amazing lineup and they’re a good team,” Umeno said. “It wasn’t easy”
Hanshin won the best-of-three series 2-1 and will meet the CL champion Yomiuri Giants in the final stage with a spot in the Japan Series on the line. The Giants will start with an automatic 1-0 advantage as the pennant winners and also host the entire six-game series, which begins Wednesday night at Tokyo Dome.
The BayStars, meanwhile, head into the offseason. The winter will include looking for a way to replace slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who the club will allow to move to MLB via the posting system.
“It was a very good game, all the way until the end,” manager Alex Ramirez said. “We did what we could. We lost it with our best guys out there. Nothing to ashamed of.”
A late surge and a six-game winning streak to end the season got the Tigers into the playoffs. A little bit of luck helped get them out of the first round.
Neither team managed to push across a run through the first five innings of a tense and wet, light rain fell throughout the game, affair in Yokohama.
Shun Takayama began the sixth with a double off pitcher Yuki Kuniyoshi and Umeno laid down a bunt to move him to third. Takayama then scored the game’s first run, coming home when Kuniyoshi spiked a first-pitch fastball to Seiya Kinami into the ground and ball bounced past catcher Hikaru Ito.
The lead was short-lived as the BayStars loaded the bases in the seventh and tied the game when third baseman Fumiya Hojo made an error on hard-hit ball by Ito.
Takayama was hit by a pitch from Edwin Escobar with one out in the eighth and replaced by Kai Ueda on the basepaths. With Umeno at the plate, Ueda stole second and went to third on a wild pitch by Escobar.
“Kai going on the first pitch sort of put me at ease,” Umeno said.
Umeno then lifted a ball into center and Ueda tagged up and came home to make the score 2-1.
Escobar was charged with the loss and stepped up to shoulder the responsibility afterward.
“The hit by pitch was the (turning) point because the guy scored, and it was my fault,” Escobar said. “We lost the game right there. That run was on me.”
Reliever Rafael Dolis earned the win, with Fujikawa getting the save after two innings of work.
The Tigers got a great night out of their pitching staff, which put the clamps on a Yokohama lineup that scored seven runs in Game 1 and six in Game 2.
Five pitchers combined to hold Yokohama to a single run and just four hits. The Hanshin pitchers went into the seventh having faced just one batter over the minimum.
The reward for edging past the BayStars is a date with the Giants in the final stage. Yomiuri won the season series.
“We still have a lot in front of us,” Tigers manager Akihiro Yano said.