The Saitama Seibu Lions scored a tournament-record 16 runs Saturday afternoon and clinched a spot in today's Asia Series final, when Taiwan's Uni-President Lions eliminated South Korea's SK Wyverns in a furious final day of preliminary play.
The three teams each finished with a 2-1 record in preliminary action at Tokyo Dome, but Seibu finished first by allowing the fewest runs per inning.
Seibu's Takeya Nakamura hit a tie-breaking, three-run homer as the Japan champs whipped China's Tianjin Lions 16-2, then awaited the outcome of the late game.
In today's final, Seibu will face Uni-President, which it beat 2-1 on Thursday.
"Our first objective was winning and we got off to a good start by scoring in the first," said Seibu skipper Hisanobu Watanabe, whose team would have clinched a spot in the final with a shutout against Tianjin. "But allowing two runs in today's game was something we could not afford."
Tianjin tied it with two runs in the bottom of the first off Seibu's Taiwan right-hander Hsu Ming-chieh on a two-run single by cleanup hitter Luo Yubin.
With the game tied 2-2 in the top of the second, a pair of walks set the table for Nakamura, who led the Pacific League with 46 home runs this season.
"In Games 1 and 2, I didn't do anything with my bat," said Nakamura, who struck out three times in each of the first two games. "I felt I was getting good swings, however, and if I made contact it would get out. I think I finally carried my weight as the No. 4 hitter.
"Their pitchers' control was not quite good enough, so I just looked for my pitches to hit."
Seibu started the game well enough: leadoff man Yasuyuki Kataoka singled and scored on a double by Takumi Kuriyama, who later scored on a groundout.
After Nakamura's homer, the game got out of hand as Seibu capitalized on three walks by reliever Su Changlong and two errors by shortstop Hou Fenglian to score five times in the third inning. Kuriyama drove in his second run, and Yoshihito Ishii capped the big rally with a two-out, two-run double.
Hsu allowed four hits and struck out four in 2-1/3 innings. Right-hander Koji Onuma worked 1-2/3 perfect innings to get the win. Shinji Taninaka retired all six batters he faced, and Shinya Okamoto pitched a perfect seventh, at which point the game ended on the 10-run mercy rule.
Watanabe sees a tough final ahead.
"I'm not expecting an easy game," Watanabe said. "I think the chances of a one-sided game are extremely small. Considering all of our injuries, I think the guys have played very well.
"We'll be playing for an Asian championship, so I want to have a winning strategy for tomorrow."
Asked to specify his strategy, Watanabe said the bulk of his plan will be naming 22-year-old Hideaki Wakui to start.
"I am going to give our ace the ball and I expect him to give us a good chance to win."
In the late game, Liu Fu-hao hit a pair of three-run home runs as Taiwan's Uni-President came from behind to beat the previosly unbeaten SK Wyverns.
The win was sweet revenge for the Lions, who were eliminated from last year's tournament in a 13-1 defeat to the Wyverns.
"SK is a very strong club with great pitching depth, and we studied them after last year's loss, observing all their Korean Series games," said Lions skipper Lu Weh-sheng.
Lu called on Lin Yueh-ping, normally a reliever, to start the crucial game, and the right-hander allowed three runs on six hits in seven innings.
Trailing by a run with one down in the fourth, Yang Sen singled in the tying run and Liu belted his first home run off Wyverns starter Chei Byung Yong to put the Lions ahead for good.