Kenshin Kawakami and his middle men came through for the Dragons on Friday night at Tokyo Dome as Chunichi took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Central League Climax Series second stage with a 7-4 win over the host Yomiuri Giants.
Catcher Motonobu Tanishige went 4-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI, shortstop Hirokazu Ibata had two hits and two runs batted in and second baseman Masahiro Araki had a pair of hits, including an RBI double in a two-run fourth, to get the Dragons within a game of their second straight Japan Series appearance and a possible rematch of last season's finale.
Chunichi right-fielder Lee Byung Kyu also had a good night at the dish, smoking a two-run triple in the seventh inning before clubbing a solo home run off Koji Uehara in the ninth.
Last year, the Dragons lost in five games to the Nippon-Ham Fighters in the Japan Series. The Fighters have already booked their return trip, finishing off the Chiba Lotte Marines in a decisive Game 5 of the Pacific League Climax Series second stage Thursday in Sapporo.
On Friday, Dragons ace Kawakami tossed seven-hit ball through seven innings, allowing four runs, most of them coming on a seventh-inning three-run homer by Damon Hollins. The veteran right-hander, who won a dozen games this year, also had a pair of singles and scored a run to help his own cause.
Shinya Okamoto got two out in the eighth for Chunichi before manager Hiromitsu Ochiai brought in closer Hitoki Iwase to finish things off with a four-out save.
Starter Hiroshi Kisanuki took the loss for the Giants, who were outhit 14-7 on the night. Kisanuki, also a 12-game winner this season, gave up three runs on eight hits over 3 2/3 innings.
Besides their contributions on offense, Araki and Ibata also flashed a little leather in the second inning. One batter after turning a 6-4-3 double play, Araki fielded a ground ball off the bat of Kisanuki up the middle behind second base. With no chance to turn and throw the runner out at first, Araki flipped the ball to Ibata, who gunned out Kisanuki.
The Giants got on the board in the bottom of the first on Tomohiro Nioka's run-scoring opposite-field double to right off Kawakami, scoring Michihiro Ogasawara from second. Ogasawara had hit a two-out single earlier in the inning and moved to second on a Lee Seung Yeop base hit.
The following inning, the Dragons loaded the bases on consecutive two-out singles by Tanishige, Kawakami and Araki. Ibata then hit a ground ball to short that looked like it would end the inning, but a hustling Araki beat the throw to second, allowing Tanishige to come home from third with the tying run.
Hollins drilled a three-run homer off Kawakami in the seventh inning that just cleared the fence in straightaway center, but that was as close as the Giants would get.
(IHT/Asahi: October 20, 2007)