An emotional rollercoaster ended with a twist on Friday night at Tokyo Dome.
The Yomiuri Giants and Chunichi Dragons battled to a 5-5 tie in Game 3 of the second stage of the Central League Climax Series, sending the excitable crowd of 45,846 home without seeing a winner.
But the deadlock helped the CL-winning Giants, who opened the best-of-seven series with a one-game advantage, to a 2-1-1 CLCS lead that puts them one win away from their first Japan Series appearance since 2002. The Dragons, who were third in the CL, need to win the last three straight starting tonight to reach the Japan Series for the third straight year.
The Dragons, who finished just three games over .500 in the regular season, had two on and two out in the 12th inning, but couldn't get push the winning run home in the 4-hour, 42-minute game.
Yomiuri relied on second-year lefty Tetsuya Yamaguchi, who tossed three scoreless innings, and third-year righty Shun Tono to work through the late innings.
"Our relievers were big tonight," said Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara, who used six hurlers from the pen. "For Yamaguchi and Tono to come through in tough situations like that is great experience for them."
The Dragons, meanwhile, will have to get the fire going with their backs against the wall.
"A tie is the same as a loss," skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai said. "We've got to win the rest of the way."
Chunichi looked like it was going to get a hard-fought victory.
Down by two runs in the eighth inning, Tyrone Woods belted his fourth longball of the postseason, an opposite-field solo blast off Kiyoshi Toyoda to make it 5-4 Giants.
Yomiuri closer Marc Kroon, who took the loss in Game 1, got the hook before he had the chance to notch his first postseason save.
A fastball got away from him and hit Norihiro Nakamura on the left wrist to open the ninth, and Hara yanked his star reliever. Nakamura went to the hospital for X-rays, while Kroon went to the showers.
Motonobu Tanishige followed a sacrifice with his second RBI double of the game, this one over a drawn-in outfield in right, to send the game into extra innings.
On pulling Kroon, Hara said: "We didn't want to have a stolen base in that situation. We're playing as a team and it was a big decision, but for the team to win tonight, we thought it was better to make the change to Yamaguchi."
The biggest change on the scoreboard came in a four-run sixth inning that put the Giants up 5-3.
The Giants put runners on second and third with no outs, but it looked like the Dragons would escape the jam when Michihiro Ogasawara grounded out and Alex Ramirez popped up.
But Lee Seung Yeop, who homered the night before, sent the crowd into a frenzy with a two-out, three-run homer into the seats in left-center field.
"I was sitting on a forkball," Lee said. "Ogasawara and Ramirez made outs in front of me and I just didn't want us to waste that opportunity."
The Dragons were hoping ace Kenshin Kawakami would give them outing they needed to get even in the series. He looked in good form until Shinnosuke Abe's fill-in Kazunari Tsuruoka, who came into the game with eight lifetime home runs (two this season), took him over the wall in straightaway center for a 1-0 Giants lead.
"This is the first time in my life I've ever hit a homer to dead center," said Tsuruoka, who also singled in the seventh inning. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought about hitting a homer in a big game like this."
After Kroon, Yomiuri turned to Yamaguchi, who won 11 regular-season games out of the bullpen, to try to save it for reliever Kentaro Nishimura. But he allowed a game-tying double over a drawn-in outfield before closing out the inning.
Yomiuri starter Tetsuya Utsumi was the first hurler in the series to keep the Dragons off the scoreboard in the first inning.
Chunichi hit two longballs in the opening frame of Game 1 and had a solo shot in the first inning of Game 2, but he kept the Dragons scoreless until Kazuhiro Wada connected with a 3-2 fastball and deposited it into the right-field seats for a two-run homer in the fourth inning.
Back-to-back doubles by Hirokazu Ibata and Tanishige--mired in an 0-18 postseason slump--gave Chunichi a 3-1 lead.
Utsumi, who came into the game 0-5 with a 5.83 ERA against Chunichi this season, allowed all three runs on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts.
But the Giants got him off the hook for the loss in the sixth inning. Pinch-hitter Takuya Kimura led off with an infield single to the hole between first and second. Kamei drove a forkball into the gap in left-center field for a double to make it second and third with no outs.
Ryota Wakiya then slapped an 0-2 pitch deep to the hole at short and beat it out for an RBI infield single to cut Chunichi's lead to one. The Giants then pulled off a double steal on the first pitch to Michihiro Ogasawara, who later grounded out to first.
Masahiro Araki raced back to shallow right snare a popup by Alex Ramirez and just when the Dragons thought they would escape the jam, Lee punished a cutter away, swatting it way out to left-center field to put Yomiuri on top 5-3.
The shot earned him a hug from Hara when he returned to the dugout.