Yusuke Oyama hit it high and he hit it far. The question was did he hit it far enough? After a wait that seemed far longer than it was, especially for the thousands clad in yellow and black in left field, everyone got their answer.
The ball was gone, the Hanshin Tigers weren’t.
Oyama hit a tiebreaking solo home run in the top of the ninth and the Tigers staved off elimination with a 7-6 victory over the Yomiuri Giants in Game 3 of the Central League Climax Series Final Stage on Friday night at Tokyo Dome.
“We felt like we couldn’t lose,” Oyama said. “We came from a place at the end of the regular season where we could lose and now we’re here.”
The Giants, who were awarded a one-game advantage as the pennant winner, lead the series 3-1.
The game, which lasted nearly 4 1/2 hours, entered the ninth tied at 6-6 after a two-run homer by the Giants’ Kazuma Okamoto in the the bottom of the fifth.
Oyama, who got his first hit of the series in the seventh, had already struck out once with the bases loaded earlier in the game. He made up for that in a big way, taking Giants reliever Kota Nakagawa deep to begin the inning.
After Oyama’s homer in the top of the ninth, 39-year-old reliever Kyuji Fujikawa closed it out for the Hanshin. Fujikawa worked the eighth and ninth innings to earn the win in relief. Nakagawa was charged with the loss.
Game 4 will take place on Sunday at Tokyo Dome. The contest was originally scheduled for Saturday, but was postponed because of Typhoon Hagibis.
The Tigers’ All-Star reliever Pierce Johnson could possibly be in the mix for that contest. The American returned to the U.S for the birth of his child before the start of the postseason and arrived back in Japan on Friday. He made it to Tokyo Dome around 5 p.m.
“I feel good,” he said. “Lot of traveling and a new baby.”
Ryutaro Umeno also homered for Hanshin, hitting his first of the series in the third inning. Umeno added an RBI single later in the game and finished 3-for-4. Koji Chikamoto had a three-run triple and Shun Takayama finished with an RBI single.
“We were in a situation were we couldn’t afford to lose,” Umeno said.
Okamoto had a big day for the Giants, finishing with a two-run double, a two-run homer and a single in four at-bats. Daikan Yoh hit a solo homer for Yomiuri and retiring veteran Shinnosuke Abe also drove in a run.
Umeno’s solo home run gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the top of the third, but Okamoto’s double and Abe’s run-scoring hit made the score 3-1 in favor of the home team in the bottom half.
After Yoh’s solo shot in the bottom of the fourth, the Giants were ahead 4-1 and seemingly cruising toward a spot in the Japan Series.
Then the Tigers came roaring back.
Kosuke Fukudome drew a walk to start the fifth against Toshiki Sakurai, who then hit Jefry Marte and walked Kento Itohara to load the bases.
Sakurai was relieved by Kyosuke Takagi, who inherited a no-out, bases-loaded jam.
Takayama blooped a single into right to bring home one run and Umeno, after Oyama struck out, singled to drive in another. Fumihito Haraguchi went down looking for the second out of the inning. Chikamoto then completed the rally with a bases-clearing triple to give the Tigers a 6-4 lead.
The advantage was short-lived.
Yoshihiro Maru drew a walk to start the Giants’ half of the fifth and Okamoto hit a deep home run to center to tie the score.
The game remained that way until Oyama’s blast in the top of the ninth.
Fujikawa then retired Hayato Sakamoto, Maru, and Okamoto in order to keep the Tigers in the series.
“We gave up five runs in that one inning,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “Plus we walked eight and hit one.”