For the first time in 29 years, the Yomiuri Giants are headed to a second straight Japan Series.
Yoshitomo Tani blew Chunichi out of Tokyo Dome with a third-inning grand slam as the Giants downed the Dragons 8-2 at Tokyo Dome on Saturday.
"It really was the greatest thing that could have happened," Tani said of the first grand slam of his 13-year pro career, which he celebrated by raising his arms in a victory display as it sailed out.
The Giants clinched the Central League Climax Series' best-of-seven second stage with a 4-1 record after beginning the series with the one-win advantage that goes to the league champion. The Giants will begin their 32nd Japan Series in Sapporo against the Pacific League champion Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters next Saturday.
"We still can only take it one game at a time," Tani said. "We absolutely want to win it."
Ryota Wakiya, whose decisive pinch-hit RBI double in the eighth-inning of Friday's game brought the Giants from behind, was named MVP of the CLCS.
"I played in all three games, but I was only on the field for about 10 minutes total," said Wakiya, whose sole contribution was the two-run double in three pinch-hit at-bats. "I wonder if I deserved it."
Flame-throwing right-hander Daisuke Ochi bailed starter Shun Tono out of a major jam in the top of the fifth, getting two strikeouts with the bases loaded and working 1-2/3 innings to get the win in relief.
Leading 3-0 in the bottom of the third, Tani all but knocked the Dragons out of the game with a serious bases-loaded blast into the left-field stands off Kenichi Nakata.
"I got all of it," Tani said.
It looked like a decisive blow, but the Dragons remained resilient until the ninth, when Kazuyoshi Tatsunami was sent in as a pinch-hitter in a hopeless effort and flied out, bringing the curtain down on his impressive career.
"I once again felt how tenacious our opponents were," Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.
"It meant a lot to us to win our third straight CL title, so we could play the Climax Series at Tokyo Dome in front of our great fans."
The Giants got off to a poor start, dropping Game 1 to the Dragons for the third straight year, but came back with a vengeance.
"After we got beat, we had some points to address and we did that," said captain Shinnosuke Abe who went 3-for-11 with a homer, a double and five walks.
"We knew what we had to do and we did it."
Abe, who missed last year's CLCS with an injury, said this was no time to take a break.
"I don't want us to take a breather, this is our starting point," he said.
Tono retired the Dragons in order in the first and his teammates got on the board in their first at-bat.
Hayato Sakamoto spearheaded the assault against Nakata with a leadoff double. The obligatory bunt by No. 2 hitter Tetsuya Matsumoto was a beauty and Nakata's rushed throw was high, allowing Sakamoto to score as Matsumoto reached safely.
A walk advanced the speedster to second. Nakata struck out cleanup man Alex Ramirez before Yoshiyuki Kamei grounded a high fastball up the middle to plate Matsumoto. With two on and one out, Nakata struck out Tani before getting Abe to fly out and end a six-pitch battle.
When Nakata came out to pitch the bottom of the third, he'd set down five straight batters, but had already recorded his last out of the season.
Matsumoto drew a five-pitch leadoff walk and stole second, while Michihiro Ogasawara fouled off two 3-2 pitches before lining a high cutter into right. He hit it too hard for Matsumoto to score, but Alex Ramirez resolved that on one pitch, smashing a high-inside fastball into left for an RBI single.
Kamei, who hit .290 with 25 homers this season, beat out a bunt on a 1-1 pitch to load the bases for Tani.
Nakata missed outside with a slider, Tani tatooed a high cut fastball and knew it was gone, throwing his arms up high to celebrate before taking off around the bases.
The Dragons fought back with a solo homer by Tony Blanco in the fourth and an unearned run in the fifth before Ochi stepped in and saved the day. With one out and the bases loaded, he struck out No. 3 man Masahiko Morino on a forkball out of the zone and did the same to Blanco.
In the sixth, Ochi made it four straight Ks before completing the inning.
Sakamoto doubled and scored in the bottom of the inning, coming home when Ramirez's high one-out chopper gave reliever Junichi Kawahara no chance to get the runner at home.
With one out in the ninth and the Dragons out of it, Tatsunami came to bat. Seventh in career hits with 2,480, Tatsunami made out but not before a great ovation from the Giants fans.
"That's something I've never experienced, and it made me extremely happy," he said.