Yoshihiro Maru stood at the plate with two outs, a runner on third and Yuki Nishi staring in from the mound. The game was tied in the sixth inning and the Yomiuri Giants and their fans were hoping for a hit. Some, perhaps, may even have dared to dream of a home run.
So when Maru dropped down a bunt, it took everyone by surprise. When the runner scored, the shock morphed into jubilation and the Giants rode that wave all the way to the Japan Series.
Maru’s gambit broke the tie in the sixth, Alex Guerrero provided some breathing room with a two-run homer in the seventh and the Kyojin closed out the Central League Climax Series Final Stage with a 4-1 win over the Hanshin Tigers in Game 4 on Sunday afternoon at Tokyo Dome to book a spot in the Japan Series.
“It’s special to have reached the top of the mountain at home,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.
Yomiuri won the series 4-1 after starting with an automatic 1-0 advantage as the pennant winner. The Giants will meet the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Game 1 of the Japan Series on Oct. 19 at Yafuoku Dome in Fukuoka. The Kyojin are in the title series for the first time since 2013.
They were in a struggle against Nishi on Sunday when Yasuhiro Yamamoto doubled to lead off the sixth with the score knotted at 1-1. Yoshiyuki Kamei moved him to third with a sacrifice bunt, before Hayato Sakamoto struck out swinging.
That brought Maru to the plate and a player who hit .292 with 27 homers during the regular season, caught the Tigers off-guard with a bunt. Nishi fielded the ball but made a poor throw to first as Yamamoto crossed home and Maru reached safely.
“I was trying to hit it a little harder,” Maru said. “It wasn’t that great.”
While the Tigers didn’t see it coming, neither did the Giants.
“We didn’t give him any sign,” Hara said. “The No. 1 thing is that the team wins. We were surprised on the bench as well.”
The play was all on the reigning CL MVP.
“I was looking at where (third baseman Yusuke) Oyama was playing,” Maru said. “I thought there was a good chance to be safe if I pushed it that way.”
Kazuma Okamoto was named MVP of the Central League Climax Series after going 8-for-16 with three home runs and seven RBIs.
“I’m just really happy that we won and we can go to the Japan Series,” Okamoto said.
His solo home run in the fifth inning of Game 3 tied the score at 1-1.
“I didn’t want to rush and really wanted to give us a chance to come back, so I’m glad,” he said.
Kan Otake earned the win in an inning of relief for Yomiuri. Nishi, who allowed two runs over six innings, was charged with the loss.
The Tigers manufactured a run to take an early lead in the second inning of a game that didn’t feature a lot of offense.
Oyama, who hit the ninth-inning homer that won Game 3 for Hanshin, started the inning with a double and went to third on a sacrifice bunt. He scored when Kento Itohara hit a sacrifice fly to left.
Okamoto tied the game in fifth with his solo home run to center.
“He’s the series MVP, without a doubt,” Hara said.
Relievers Otake, Kazuto Taguchi, Kota Nakagawa and Rubby De La Rosa pitched an inning each and kept the Tigers off the board over the final four innings.
The Giants will now regroup and head to Fukuoka to take on the two-time defending champions, who finished off the Seibu Lions in the Pacific League Climax Series earlier on Sunday. Game 1 is on Saturday.
“Our goal is to win the Japan Series,” Hara said. “We’re going to fight with all our power.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5