The Chunichi Dragons found a way to beat Yomiuri closer Marc Kroon's heat on Wednesday in Game 1 of the second stage of the Central League Climax Series.
They used experience.
Norihiro Nakamura, last year's Japan Series MVP, took a forkball from the flame-throwing hurler back through the middle to score Masahiko Morino and break a tie in the ninth inning as the Dragons earned a 4-3 win in front of 44,072 at Tokyo Dome.
The Dragons have now won four straight CLCS games here, and this one erased the one-game lead for the Giants in the best-of-seven series.
"I wasn't able to do anything at the plate with runners on in my other at-bats," said the 35-year-old Nakamura, who stranded three runners in the fifth by hitting into a double play, and struck out with two on in the seventh.
"I was looking for a forkball. Kroon throws hard--a fastball in the low 150-kph range tonight--but I was sitting on a forkball," said Nakamura, who added, "I hope we can use this win to get on a roll and ride it to the Japan Series again."
Morino worked a one-out walk off Kroon, who fanned Tyrone Woods before Kazuhiro Wada singled to center.
Nakamura hit a 2-2 forkball and Morino strolled home with the Dragons' fourth run in the rematch of last year's second stage of the CLCS, a best-of-five series that Chunichi swept.
The rally came after shortstop Hirokazu Ibata's 6-3 double play on a grounder from Yomiuri's Yoshinobu Takahashi. With the bases loaded and the infield drawn in, Ibata grabbed the tapper toward short, raced back to step on second base and fired a throw to first to keep a run from scoring.
The Giants never had the lead, but that was one of many opportunities they wasted in a tight game.
"We just couldn't get the lead today when we had opportunities," exasperated Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.
Chunichi skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai was pleased with the victory, but griped about his team's failure to add to its lead.
"We should have scored some runs before that," said Ochiai, who guided the Dragons to three Series appearances in his first four years.
The Dragons took the early lead by flexing their muscles. Leadoff man Lee Byung Kyu drove a pitch to the gap in left-center that carried over the wall to opening the scoring. Two outs later, Woods homered for the third straight postseason game, taking starter Seth Greisinger out the park the other way to right for a 2-0 cushion.
The Giants came back with a run in the bottom of the first. Chunichi starter Masahiro Yamamoto got ahead of leadoff man Takahiro Suzuki but plunked him with a 1-2 pitch. A sacrifice and a flyout later, CL MVP candidate Alex Ramirez fought off an offspeed pitch inside and dropped it into center for an RBI single to cut the deficit in half.
The Giants got even in the fourth inning when Yoshitomo Tani took a misplaced 2-0 fastball and drove it high and deep down the line in left for a solo blast to make it 2-2.
The Dragons edged back in front in the fifth, thanks to poor Yomiuri defense. Lee singled to open the frame and Greisinger committed an error on a sacrifice bunt to make it first and second with no outs.
Greisinger got no decision after going 4-1/3 innings and allowing three runs, two earned, on five hits and three walks, while fanning six.
Yamamoto, a 25-year veteran who has yet to win in six postseason games, allowed three runs on five hits, a walk and a hit batter, while striking out two in 5-1/3 innings.
"I wanted to leave the game with the lead," the 43-year-old Yamamoto said. "That last run I gave up was really a needless one."