Big-money players helped produce some big smiles at the end of the second stage of the Central League Climax Series, but the Yomiuri Giants are going back to the Japan Series because everyone contributed.
Giants manager Tatsunori Hara once more emphasized the "every man" concept in a press conference after Saturday's 6-2 win over the Chunichi Dragons at Tokyo Dome in Game 4 of the best-of-seven series. This time, it was believable.
Yomiuri was without All-Star catcher Shinnosuke Abe, likely out for the postseason with a shoulder injury, but the Giants didn't miss a beat with Kazunari Tsuruoka stepping up to bat .385 in the CLCS.
"This wasn't the case in the Climax Series alone," Hara said. "This has been the case all season.
"The entire year, anytime there has been a hole, each and every player has done what he could to help make up for it. Everyone has stepped up and performed.
"We had some concerns about Tsuruoka, whose time as a Giant has been short, but he far exceeded our expectations," Hara said about the backup catcher who joined the club in a June 11 trade.
The back-to-back CL champion Giants erased their playoff nightmare--last year's three-game sweep to the Dragons--by downing third-place Chunichi 3-1-1 in the CLCS. Yomiuri had a one-win advantage when the series kicked off, but its obvious edge was on the offensive side.
Series MVP Alex Ramirez all but buried the Dragons with a tiebreaking two-run homer in the eighth inning on Saturday. It was his second homer in as many days; he batted .438 in the series.
Michihiro Ogasawara, the Pacific League MVP in 2006 and CL MVP last year, had two homers--including a grand slam--and six RBIs in a Game 2 rout.
South Korean star Lee Seung Yeop overcame a sluggish season to hit a big three-run homer against Chunichi ace Kenshin Kawakami in Game 3, an eventual 5-5 tie.
But the table-setters were also a key. Leadoff man Yoshiyuki Kamei stepped in after Game 1 and hit .500 for the Giants. Takuya Kimura hit .333 in limited action, and Yoshitomo Tani batted .286 with some clutch RBIs.
On the mound, Yomiuri's starters kept the Dragons from piling up runs, but the relievers were the real heroes.
After the pen blew Game 1 and a Giants rout in Game 2, second-year southpaw Tetsuya Yamaguchi and third-year right-hander Shun Tono combined to pin the Dragons down with four scoreless innings--three by Yamaguchi--in a game that ended in a 12-inning draw.
To set up closer Marc Kroon, Hara went with third-year hurler Daisuke Ochi--instead of veteran Kiyoshi Toyoda--in the series finale.
The victory spurred an impromptu hero's toss for Hara, who said the team had agreed not to celebrate that way unless it won the Japan Series.
But Ogasawara said the players' emotions took over.
"It was just a natural reaction to what we had at that moment," he said.
"It was tough series, and I'm sure it was stressful for the manager and all the players, but it was great how we finished it up with this win--it was the perfect ending."
After the series loss, Chunichi skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai said he wasn't his usual sly self.
"If had been able to think things out better, the result might have been different in this series," he said.
"These guys played well for us, though, and I have no regrets about the players I put out there in the series."
The Giants now take on the Saitama Seibu Lions in the Japan Series, which starts Saturday at Tokyo Dome.
"For players of my generation, the Giants vs the Lions in the Series is what it's all about," Hara said.
"We're ready to go chest-to-chest with them and have a good series."