The Yomiuri Giants played with fire and lived to tell a dramatic story about it.
Pinch-hitter Ryota Wakiya, who played in 89 games and had seven doubles all season, laced a go-ahead two-run double with two outs in the eighth inning as the three-time defending Central League champion Giants came back to beat the Chunichi Dragons 5-4 in Game 3 of Stage 2 of the Climax Series at Tokyo Dome on Friday night.
Wakiya, a fourth-year part-time player, jumped on the first pitch from loser Takuya Asao right after Chunichi's All-Star shortstop Hirokazu Ibata misplayed a soft liner for a run-scoring error.
The win gave the Giants a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, in which Yomiuri entered with a one-game advantage.
"It felt good," Wakiya said about the shot off set-up man Asao, who had 33 holds this season. "I wasn't thinking about anything when I went up to the plate, I just swung the bat hard.
"Our team is thinking about one thing and that's going to the Japan Series."
Said Giants skipper Tatsunori Hara: "Wakiya changed everything in the blink of an eye. He really challenges people and he plays hard, and that was evident in that at-bat. He really focused and did the job for us tonight."
The rally started with a leadoff walk to Hayato Sakamoto and a single by Tetsuya Matsumoto. Michihiro Ogasawara flied out to left and Masahiro Araki's sparking dive and throw to first nipped Alex Ramirez for the second out before Ibata let Yoshiyuki Kamei's liner bounce on the turf and failed to field it cleanly.
Wakiya stepped up and smacked a low inside fastball over right fielder Atsushi Fujii's head and to the wall. Matsumoto scooted home and Kamei raced all the way around from first to score the go-ahead run.
Marc Kroon set the Dragons down quickly and quietly in the ninth for his second save in as many nights, and the Giants are one win or tie away from back-to-back Japan Series appearances.
"We did a good job of hanging in there and battling all game long," Hara said. "We'll go into the next game the way we've played the other games: thinking just about one game at a time."
Chunichi starter Kazuki Yoshimi, whose 16 victories tied him Yakult's Shohei Tateyama for the most in the league, entered the game under a cloud of controversy regarding his use of garlic-based intravenous drip earlier this season.
Japan pro baseball is to decide whether the use was for a medical emergency or simply to help him recover from fatigue. If it's deemed he had the IV for something other than medicinal purposes, the fourth-year righty could be subject to sanctions.
The 25-year-old hurler surrendered two runs on seven hits, while walking none and fanning four over six innings, and was in line for the win before Yomiuri rallied.
The Giants couldn't square up a ball off Yoshimi after the second inning. Matsumoto and Ogasawara each singled in the first, and Shinnosuke Abe doubled in the second but were left on base.
Yoshimi settled down to shut out the Giants until the Giants became the first team to hit back-to-back homers in the CLCS.
Ramirez took Yoshimi out the other way with a solo blast with two down in the sixth and Kamei followed with his first hit of the season off Yoshimi, a laser over the wall in right to tie the score at 2-2.
The runs took starter Hisanori Takahashi off the hook, even though the southpaw pitched well enough to win.
Takahashi, who got hot and won five straight decisions at the end of the regular season, allowed two runs in the first and wiggled out of trouble in the third and fourth before departing in the fifth inning.
Takahashi, who had no-decisions vs Chunichi in two regular-season games, was lifted for a pinch-hitter. He fanned nine--including the side in the fifth--in one his best performances of the season. Kiyoshi Toyoda earned the win with a scoreless eighth.
The Dragons put runners on second and third with one out in the third inning and loaded the bases in the fourth, but couldn't score. In the third, Morino watched strike three zip past, and Takahashi got an inning-ending double play from Yoshimi after pitching around Motonobu Tanishige.
The Dragons have been dangerous in the first inning. For the third straight game, Chunichi went deep in the opening frame, this time Masahiko Morino taking Takahashi over the fence in right center with Araki aboard for a 2-0 lead.
"I don't know what kind of pitch I hit, but I know I hit it well," Morino said.