The hard-hitting Yomiuri Giants relied on a balanced attack while the Nippon-Ham Fighters rode the hot bat of Terrmel Sledge into Japan's version of the Fall Classic with big wins on Saturday.
Yoshitomo Tani delivered the big blow at Tokyo Dome in the Central League Climax Series, a third-inning grand slam off Dragons starter Kenichi Nakata, as the Giants topped Chunichi 8-2 to advance to the Japan Series, which starts Saturday at Sapporo Dome.
In Sapporo, meanwhile, American slugger Sledge homered and drove in five runs Saturday as the Fighters dispatched the Rakuten Eagles 9-4 in Game 4 of the Pacific League Climax Series.
Both the Giants and Dragons won their respective series' 4-1, but in both cases the teams began the "best-of-seven" matchups with one-game leads going in, a reward for having the best records in the regular season.
Tani, who led the Giants with a .331 batting average this season, sparked an offense that featured four starters with 25 or more home runs in 2009. His home run, which he stood admiring at home plate with his arms upraised, provided more than enough run support for manager Tatsunori Hara's club.
"Hitting a grand slam is the best feeling," said Tani, the husband of judo champion Ryoko Tani. "I really hit it good and I felt that it pretty much sealed the game for us."
Giants substitute Ryota Wakiya was named MVP of the series, which not only surprised some in the press box but also Wakiya himself.
"I only played about 10 minutes over three games so this is very surprising for me," said Wakiya, whose eighth-inning pinch-hit two-run double powered the Giants to a come-from-behind 5-4 victory in Game 3 on Friday night.
Nippon-Ham's Sledge was named MVP of the PL series after ripping it up at the plate. The North Carolina native, who hit .266 with 27 home runs during the regular season, hit a game-winning walkoff grand slam in the opening game last Wednesday. For the series, he was 6-for-17 with 10 RBIs, which included a three-run HR in Saturday's clincher off Hisashi Iwakuma, who was working out of the bullpen.
The Fighters' victory spelled the end of manager Katsuya Nomura's stint in charge of the Eagles. The cantankerous 74-year-old former All-Star catcher took the Eagles to the postseason in his fourth year at the helm in Sendai but he was informed earlier this season that he would not be retained in the post in 2010. Former Hiroshima Carp skipper Marty Brown is expected to take the reins next season.
At the conclusion of Saturday's game, players from both PL clubs got together and tossed Nomura in the air in honor of all he has accomplished in Japanese baseball as both a player and manager.
The Giants are making their second straight trip to the Japan Series, having lost in seven games to the Seibu Lions last year. Yomiuri has been in the Japan Series 31 times and has won it on 20 occasions--including nine in a row from 1965-73--but the club's last JS title came back in 2002.
For the Fighters, this is their third trip to the big dance in the last four years. The club won it all in 2006 under American manager Trey Hillman while losing a finals rematch the following season to the Dragons.
Both teams will likely be without some key personnel on the mound. Hammies ace Yu Darvish, who posted a 15-5 record with a 1.73 ERA in 2009, is expected to miss the Japan Series with a sore back, which also kept him out of the Climax Series.
Giants right-hander Seth Greisinger also missed the Climax Series with inflammation in his pitching elbow and it is doubtful that he will see action in the Japan Series. Greisinger, a two-time CL wins leader, won 13 games for Yomiuri this season.
The Japan Series starts Saturday with Games 1 and 2 at Sapporo Dome before moving south to Tokyo Dome for games Tuesday, Wednesday and, if necessary, Thursday. If the best-of-seven is still not decided, the teams head back up to Hokkaido for Games 6 and 7 the weekend of Nov. 7-8.