The Yomiuri Giants completed a tremendous second-half comeback on Friday, clinching the Central League championship after trailing by 13 games on July 8.
Seth Greisinger allowed a run in 8-2/3 innings and Shinnosuke Abe drove in two big runs to push the Giants to a 3-1 victory. Their 32nd CL flag had to wait for the Hanshin Tigers' pennant hopes to die 20 minutes later in Yokohama.
Greisinger (17-9) allowed four hits but no walks and struck out eight. After getting the second out in the ninth, manager Tatsunori Hara brought on closer Marc Kroon for a cameo appearance and his 41st save.
"That was perhaps the best I've thrown all season," said Greisinger.
Abe homered to open the scoring in the fourth and doubled in Lee Seung Yeop with an insurance run in the sixth. The Giants lost their captain soon after when he was injured on a pickoff play at second base.
"These are some amazing players," Hara said. "They never gave up right until the end. All this is due to them. What a team effort."
After the Swallows scratched out a run to tie it in the fourth, the Giants responded in kind in the fifth with the help of two bad pitches by Dicky Gonzalez (1-5).
The right-hander allowed two runs on five hits and two walks over five innings and struck out six, but a misplaced pitchout and a wild pitch allowed Takahiro Suzuki to motor around the bases after a leadoff single.
The Giants entered the game with a magic number of two to clinch the pennant. The Tigers' rain-hit 4-3 defeat to the BayStars sealed the CL's order of finish with the Tigers' last gasps shown on Jingu's center field screen to the delight of the largely pro-Giants crowd.
The Giants had blown a chance on Thursday to all but seal the pennant race but got hammered by the BayStars at Tokyo Dome.
Shuichi Murata, whose three-run homer turned the tide against the Tigers, had homered off the Giants the day before.
"Murata is a wonder, he is master Murata as far as I'm concerned," said Giants owner Takuo Takihana. "He got us yesterday, but he got the Tigers today."
Murata's 45th homer of the season moved him one ahead of Yomiuri's Alex Ramirez, whose regular season will end today at Jingu. Murata has two more games to play.
When BayStars closer Hayato Terahara ended the game on a flyout to right with the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on first, the Giants watching from the bench and the fans throughout the stadium erupted into celebration.
"I never thought about clinching it tonight," Greisinger said. "I figured let's win this one and then get the next one tomorrow."
Hara's club opened the season by losing their first five games--starting here with a three-game sweep by the Swallows, the CL's last-place club in 2007.
Battling a host of injuries while the Tigers rocketed through the first three months of the seasons, the Giants moved above .500 for the first time on June 18. The Giants began to win steadily after that.
"It was a case of one bitter disappointment after another," said Takihana. "But that makes this all the sweeter. Although it's big because of what it means to our company, it is simply a marvelous feeling."
A loss on July 8 at Koshien Stadium dropped the Giants to one game over .500 and 13 back of the Tigers, against whom Yomiuri had a 3-7 record at the time. After a rainout the next day, the Giants won their next four games and 11 of their last 14 games against the Tigers. Although the two teams could still finish with identical records, the Giants' 14-10 head-to-head record will break the tie in their favor.
Hara thanked the Tigers for their effort and for making it a pennant race for the ages.
"Hanshin manager [Akinobu] Okada told me, 'We're going all out in this.' That's a great spirit and that made this race something memorable. We owe a lot to them. Hanshin was so strong, just super in the early going."
Ramirez, who like Greisinger joined the Giants in the offseason from the Swallows, was soaking up the feeling of his first league title since 2001.
"It's a good feeling," said Ramirez. "The last time I watched the Giants do it at Tokyo Dome [in 2007] and I was on the other side. This is great."