Hideaki Wakui pitched the Lions to their first Japan Series victory at Tokyo Dome in 14 years on Saturday as the Pacific League champs opened the 2008 Series in winning fashion.
Wakui allowed an unearned run on one hit over eight innings as the Saitama Seibu Lions edged the Central League champion Yomiuri Giants 2-1 in Game 1 of the best-of-seven battle.
Wakui, making his Series debut, helped hand Giants ace Koji Uehara his first Series defeat. The 22-year-old won his third start of the postseason, surrendering one hit, issuing two walks and hitting a batter while striking out eight. The youngster, who was 10-11 with a 3.90 ERA during the year, is 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA since the regular season ended.
"He's cleared out all those troubles he had during the season and started fresh," said Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe, who pitched and won the Lions' last Japan Series victory here, in 1994. "I was anxious to see how well he would do, but the game turned out as I expected as a battle between two aces. They were both great."
Uehara allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings. The right-hander struck out eight but surrendered a pair of solo homers to fall to 2-1 in three starts.
Toshiaki Goto homered off Uehara to tie it in the fifth, and Hiroyuki Nakajima put the Lions in front in the sixth.
"That was a tremendous homer by Goto," Watanabe said. "He put his kind of swing on the ball and drove it to a good spot."
After beginning the Series making nine straight outs, the Giants pushed a run across in the fourth on an error, a sacrifice and Alex Ramirez's two-out bloop double.
After the Giants stranded two runners in the inning, Goto took Uehara over the center-field wall on a 1-0 fastball away.
"My first time up I struck out looking, so this time I was thinking of swinging at the first strike I saw," said Goto, like Wakui a graduate of Yokohama High School.
In the sixth, Nakajima also jumped on a fastball away for a solo home run that decided the game.
"Goto really picked us up with his home run," Nakajima said. "You want to be able to come back at them before they can regroup, so that [my homer] felt tremendous."
Despite playing in the Giants' house before a boisterous crowd of 44,757, Nakajima drew inspiration from his surroundings.
"You don't get a chance to play in a situation like this during the regular season, with this kind of pressure with this kind of crowd, so it's something you should enjoy," said the Lions' 26-year-old shortstop, who now has three career Series homers.
"I felt the energy of the other team's supporters and treated it in my mind as if they were supporting me."
Uehara allowed a leadoff single in the seventh and survived a minor scrape when a two-out single gave the Lions a chance to pick up another run.
Right-hander Daisuke Ochi retired the Lions in the eighth but was lifted in the bottom of the inning when wounded captain Shinnosuke Abe returned to a thunderous applause.
Playing for the first time since hurting his shoulder on Oct. 10--the night the Giants clinched the pennant--Abe hit one in the air to center but the crowd could not will it out and the Giants went down 1-2-3 in Wakui's last inning.
Closer Alex Graman survived a leadoff infield single by Takuya Kimura to save it for the Lions. The lefty had allowed two runs in on four hits and a walk in two Climax Series games.
"I could have let Wakui go, but it's not over, and besides Wakui isn't going to win the game by himself," Watanabe said. "As for Graman, he has done well for us all season and this is a team effort.
"I was glad to see how he pitched with a runner on, and he did the job. If he had failed, it wouldn't have been the end of the world."
The game started the Lions' way, with Yasuyuki Kataoka reaching on a leadoff single. With backup catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka possessing a below-average arm, Kataoka, the PL stolen base king, was a good bet to reach second. But repeated throws to first gave Uehara his first out of the game.
"That's the other side of his game," Watanabe said. "On the positive side, I've seen the impact he's made when he succeeds. He knows where he went wrong and he'll deal with it.
"It was a mistake, but it was an aggressive error, not one of hesitation or indecision, and I have no problems with that."
Although Uehara walked the next batter on four pitches, the runner was forced at second, and Uehara ended the inning with a strikeout.
The Giants hit a couple of balls well enough in their half of the first, but a leadoff lineout and a smartly gloved smash to first for the third out saw the hosts retired 1-2-3.
Wakui didn't allow a Giant on until third baseman Takeya Nakamura mishandled a ground ball, allowing Takahiro Suzuki to open the fourth by reaching on an error. The speedster was bunted to second. Wakui struck out Michihiro Ogasawara for the second out, but the run scored when right fielder Hiram Bocachica failed to make a shoestring grab on a dying quail off the bat of Ramirez.
"It was the only hit Wakui would allow in eight innings.
""He moved his pitches around a lot, and we'll come up with something before we face him again," said Giants manager Tatsunori Hara. "We played a good game in a high-pressure situation. It just turned out that we were on the losing end."