Alex Ramirez smacked a walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday night at Tokyo Dome, giving the Yomiuri Giants a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Seibu Lions to even the Japan Series at a game apiece.
Ramirez, in his first year with the Giants, smoked a shot into the left-field bleachers off Lions reliever Shinya Okamoto with one out, much to the delight of the home crowd.
"I was looking for something in the strike zone that I could hit in the air because I'd been hitting groundballs all game," said Ramirez, who went 1-for-5 on the night.
It was lefty against lefty in Game 2, with Giants skipper Tatsunori Hara sending Hisanori Takahashi to the hill to take on Seibu's Kazuyuki Hoashi, an 11-game winner for Hisanobu Watanabe's club in 2008. Both men were long gone by the time this one was decided, however.
In the bottom of the second, the Giants drew first blood when Lee Seung Yeop drew a walk and Yoshitomo Tani was hit by a pitch. After Hayato Sakamoto bunted the runners over, catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka flared a sacrifice fly to right to make it 1-0. Tsuruoka is playing in place of regular catcher Shinnosuke Abe, who is limited to pinch-hitting and DH duties as he recovers from a separated shoulder.
The lead stood for a couple of innings, but in the top of the fourth, Yasuyuki Kataoka led off with a double for the Leos and Hiroyuki Nakajima later crushed a Takahashi 128-kph changeup over the fence in left to score two runs. Nakajima's blast, his second of the series, traveled an estimated 130 meters.
The Giants loaded the bases in their half of the fifth on a Takuya Kimura squib single, a Michihiro Ogasawara double off the wall and a walk to Lee, but with two out Tani grounded out to third to end the threat.
The following inning, however, Yomiuri was able to bring the tying run in off reliever Koji Onuma. Sakamoto singled and moved to second on a sac bunt before Yoshiyuki Kamei lined an RBI double to right.
The 2-2 scoreline would hold up until Ramirez went yard in the ninth. Rami drove in 125 runs this season and hit 45 homers, but none bigger than his game-winner Sunday.
Seibu starter Hoashi lasted five innings, leaving the game with a 2-1 lead. He gave up one run on five hits with two strikeouts, three walks and he hit two batters with pitches.
Giants reliever Daisuke Ochi (1-0) got the win.
Takahashi, meanwhile, allowed two runs on just three hits--including Nakajima's homer--in 5 1/3 innings.
The win may have come at a cost for the Giants. Reigning Central League MVP Ogasawara left the game after being hit on the hand by a pitch in the seventh inning.
In Saturday's series opener also at Tokyo Dome, Lions right-hander Hideaki Wakui, a 17-game winner last season who went 10-11 this year, shut down the Giants vaunted offense, restricting the mighty Kyojin to just one unearned run on one hit through eight innings as Seibu won 2-1.
Wakui struck out eight and closer Alex Graman worked the ninth for his first postseason save.
After Ramirez doubled in a run for the Giants in the fourth inning, the Lions answered with solo homers from Toshiaki Goto in the fifth inning and Nakajima in the sixth, both off Yomiuri starter Koji Uehara. It was all the offensive support Wakui would need.
Veteran Uehara, who may be in his last season in Japan as he ponders taking a shot at the majors in 2009, allowed the two runs on five hits through seven innings.
The series now shifts to Seibu Dome in Saitama for Games 3, 4 and 5 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. If necessary, Games 6 and 7 will be back at Tokyo Dome on Saturday and Sunday.
Since 1950, the Giants have won 20 Japan Series championships, the last in 2002. The Lions have won 12 titles, three as the Nishitetsu Lions and nine under Seibu ownership, most recently in 2004.