Kazuki Yoshimi came out on top in a duel featuring two pitchers who won 16 games this season as the Chunichi Dragons edged the Yakult Swallows 3-2 Sunday night at Nagoya Dome to force a third and deciding Game 3 in Stage 1 of the Central League Climax Series.
The teams go at it again tonight, with the winner moving on to face the CL champion Giants in the best-of-seven Stage 2 beginning Wednesday at Tokyo Dome, with Yomiuri enjoying a one-game lead going in. The Swallows won Saturday's series opener 3-2.
Meanwhile Saturday, the Rakuten Eagles completed a two-game sweep of the Softbank Hawks in the first stage of the Pacific League Climax Series.
In Nagoya on Sunday, Masahiro Araki drove in the winning run with a line shot up the middle off Swallows starter Shohei Tateyama--who tied Yoshimi for the CL lead in wins this season--in the bottom of the seventh, breaking a 2-2 tie.
Yoshimi (1-0) went eight innings, restricting the Swallows to two runs on seven hits and ending third-place Yakult's winning streak at seven games.
Reliever Takuya Asao struck out Jamie D'Antona in the ninth before closer Hitoki Iwase came in to record the save for Hiromitsu Ochiai's club. Iwase, who had a league-best 41 saves this season, walked Aaron Guiel before getting pinch-hitter Kazuhiro Hatakeyama to ground into a game-ending double play.
Earlier, the Dragons scored in the bottom of the first inning on a bases-loaded groundout chopper to short by Kazuhiro Wada. That run came one batter after Tony Blanco appeared to ground into a potential inning-ending double play, but Yakult shortstop Yuji Onizaki bobbled the ball. Instead of heading to the dugout with a clean slate, Tateyama and the Swallows found themselves in a bases-loaded situation with one out, and veteran Wada made them pay.
Onizaki made amends to some extent the following frame when he singled off Yoshimi, setting the table for a two-run homer by catcher Ryohei Kawamoto that just cleared the fence in left.
A solo shot by Dragons catcher Motonobu Tanishige into those same stands in the bottom half squared things up, however, and that's the way it stayed until the seventh, when Araki came up with his clutch RBI single.
Tateyama (0-1) gave up three runs, two earned, on six hits over 6 2-3 innings. He struck out six and walked one man.
The Swallows have been hit by the flu bug while in Nagoya. Pitchers Yuki Tanaka and Hiromitsu Takagi, as well as infielder Yoshiyuki Noguchi, are all unavailable for Game 3.
On Saturday, veteran slugger Takeshi Yamasaki hammered a three-run homer at Sendai's Kleenex Stadium to back a nine-strikeout, complete-game pitching performance by Masahiro Tanaka as the Eagles finished off the Hawks in two straight in the PL playoffs.
The Eagles' 4-1 win over Softbank came a day after they topped the Hawks 11-4 in their NPB postseason debut. Rakuten next faces PL regular-season champions the Nippon-Ham Fighters in Stage 2. That series also begins Wednesday in Sapporo with the Fighters holding a 1-0 lead heading into the best-of-seven affair. Nippon-Ham ace Yu Darvish will not be available for Stage 2 due to back and shoulder pain.