With their backs to the wall, the Saitama Seibu Lions got big games from unlikely heroes on Saturday to extend the 2008 Japan Series to seven games.
Utility man Hiroshi Hirao had three hits and four RBIs, and Game 4 hero Takayuki Kishi threw 5-2/3 scoreless innings of relief to send the Yomiuri Giants to a 4-1 defeat in Game 6 at Tokyo Dome.
Hirao doubled, singled and homered to raise his career Series average to .438, while Kishi, coming off a 147-pitch shutout three nights earlier, shut down the Giants to set up a winner-take-all clash with the Central League champs.
"We all think we're going to win tomorrow," said Hirao, who played in just 55 games this season. "The Giants are strong, but we're not awed by them. We're relaxed, if we weren't you'd see us making all kinds of mistakes. This is fun."
Kishi, who said he was ready to pitch again provided he had two days rest, was a man of his word. Lions skipper Hisanobu Watanabe sent the 23-year-old to the bullpen and told him to get ready.
"I went out there like usual," said Kishi (2-0), who entered with one out and two men on in the fourth.
The right-hander struck out six, while walking one and allowing four hits.
The Giants brought the tying run to the plate in both the eighth and ninth innings, but Kishi stayed in the game and got the job done.
"He's quite an amazing pitcher although he doesn't get much national attention," said Watanabe. "Teams that face him, however, are all impressed by him."
The Lions seized the early lead for the third game in a row as Hirao plated three runs with a two- out, first-inning double.
The Lions loaded the bases against southpaw Hisanori Takahashi after one out with a single and two walks. Hirao then drove a 1-1 fastball to the gap in left.
"With the other guys a win away from the championship, we absolutely needed to score first," Hirao said. "Tonight was just one of those things. We are all working so hard for this. It just happened to be me [in the spotlight] tonight."
Takahashi, who stranded two in the first and two more in the second, became the second straight Yomiuri starter to get an early hook after Koji Uehara's three-inning effort in Game 5. The lefty was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the second when the Giants had a chance to tie the game against Kazuyuki Hoashi.
Yoshiyuki Kamei's no-out double plated a run and put two in scoring position with no outs. With the infield in, Hoashi got sharp grounders to the mound and to third. The lefty, who has now stranded 22 Giants runners in 21 innings this year, got pinch-hitter Noriyoshi Omichi to ground out to end the inning.
Alex Ramirez, who went 0-for-3 against Hoashi in Game 2, started the rally with a leadoff single and went to third on Lee Seung Yeop's second hit of the Series.
In the fourth, Ramirez once more put the side-armer's feet to the fire with a leadoff double that was followed by a walk to Lee. With no outs, Hoashi nearly let the game get away with a fastball down the pipe to Kamei, but the left-handed-hitter mishit it to second. Second baseman Yasuyuki Kataoka struggled with the ball and could only get the force at second.
That was enough for Watanabe to call on Kishi. A fly to center was nearly deep enough to score Ramirez. The slugger retreated to third, and Kataoka cut the ball off but failed to notice Lee sneaking into second.
With the tying run on second, Kishi recorded his first strikeout to protect the 3-1 Lions lead.
Although the Giants relief corps allowed a run, on Hirao's fifth-inning homer off Kentaro Nishimura, the four pitchers Giants manager Tatsunori Hara employed allowed five hits and five walks between them.
So far in the Series, the difference between the two pens had been critical, but Watanabe was not going to turn to his regular relievers--even when it was Kishi's turn to bat.
"I thought I might get pulled [for a pinch-hitter], but I stood in there as best as I could," Kishi said.
Kishi struck out twice and made the last out for the Lions in the top of the ninth as Watanabe gave the ball to the right-hander instead of lefty closer Alex Graman.
"All he said was, 'Go get 'em,'" Kishi said.
"I felt fine at the start, but in the seventh and eighth innings, my arm was feeling it. I was more tired the other night, though."
In the ninth, he gave up a one-out, pinch-hit double to Giants captain Shinnosuke Abe and a single to third-string catcher Ken Kato. But Kishi struck out Takuya Kimura and Takahiro Suzuki to send the Series to a Sunday climax.
Asked if he was ready to pitch in the Series finale, too, Kishi said: "Absolutely not. All I'm going to do is cheer."