With a couple of former heavyweight world leaders looking on, Michihiro Ogasawara and Shinnosuke Abe muscled up and drove in three runs apiece as the Yomiuri Giants topped the Nippon-Ham Fighters 7-4 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Japan Series.
Game 4 goes tonight with Game 5 also scheduled for Tokyo Dome on Thursday. If necessary, the series will return to Sapporo for Games 6 and 7 this weekend.
With former U.S. President George W. Bush and ex-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi taking in the game, Japan's version of the Homer Dome certainly lived up to its reputation Tuesday night. The first six runs of the game at Tokyo Dome all came on solo homers but it was a fifth-inning two-run double off the wall by Ogasawara, who spent the first 10 years of his career with the Hammies, that proved to be the game-winner.
Nippon-Ham's Atsunori Inaba lined a shot 110 meters over the wall with two out in the top of the first inning off Giants starter Wirfin Obispo to start the homer-fest.
In the second, Eiichi Koyano plopped an Obispo delivery just over the fence in center to make it a 2-0 game, but in the bottom of the frame, Giants sluggers Lee Seung Yeop and Abe hammered back-to-back solo jacks off Keisaku Itokazu to tie the game. Lee got all of his, drilling it an estimated 135 meters into the bleachers in right.
An inning later, it was Ogasawara's turn to go deep as the Giants infielder clobbered a homer to right to make it 3-2 Yomiuri, a lead that would last until the fifth, when Nippon-Ham leadoff hitter Kensuke Tanaka responded with a solo shot of his own.
With two out and the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the fifth, Itokazu walked Yomiuri leadoff hitter Hayato Sakamoto and gave up a single to Tetsuya Matsumoto. Ogasawara then stepped up to the plate and drove a 126-kph forkball off the wall in left-center to bring both men home.
The Fighters got one of those runs back in the eighth, thanks to some sloppy defense on the part of the Giants. Reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi hit Tanaka with a pitch to lead off the inning and his errant pickoff throw allowed Tanaka to move to second base. F's pinch-hitter Hichori Morimoto then hit a chopper up the middle that shortstop Sakamoto scooped up as he ranged to his left, but first-baseman Lee was unable to handle the throw. One run scored on the error that was charged to Lee.
A bases-loaded two-run single by Abe in the bottom of the eighth off Nippon-Ham reliever Shintaro Ejiri gave the Giants a little breathing room.
Obispo got the win, giving up three runs on four hits over six innings while striking out six. Closer Marc Kroon worked a scoreless ninth, striking out pinch-hitter Sho Nakata on a 151-kph fastball to end it as he picked up his second save of the series.
Itokazu tossed five innings for the Fighters. He allowed five runs on six hits and a walk in taking the loss.
In the 2009 regular season, hitter-friendly Tokyo Dome yielded 193 home runs in 4,971 at-bats. Sapporo Dome, by comparison, saw 99 balls leave the yard in 4,250 at-bats.
Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday as home-run king Sadaharu Oh and ex-Japan Prime Minister Koizumi looked on. Bush, a former part-owner of the Texas Rangers, was wearing a Giants warmup jacket as he bounced a pitch to Yomiuri catcher Abe.