When the dust settled at Koshien Stadium on Sunday, the Yomiuri Giants were bound for Nagoya, with the Hanshin Tigers left to ponder another playoff defeat.
Alex Ramirez's two-run, eighth-inning single completed a big comeback as the Giants swept the first stage of the Central League Climax Series' first stage with a 7-6 victory.
After overcoming a one-run lead in Saturday's Game 1, the Giants rallied to overcome a four-run gap, scoring three runs off star Tigers setup man Tomoyuki Kubota and two more off ace closer Kyuji Fujikawa.
"We never put our heads down, we just kept swinging and that enabled us to come back," said Ramirez.
After a two-run homer by Yoshinobu Takahashi made it a one-run game in the seventh, Fujikawa retired the first batter in the eighth.
Yoshiyuki Kamei, who had done little during the regular season or so far over the weekend, worked an eight-pitch walk. Michihiro Ogasawara then pulled a fastball away to right for a double that brought up Ramirez, who said Kamei's walk was huge.
"Kamei had a really good at-bat that gave 'Guts' and I the chance to come back and hit this guy," Ramirez said.
The Giants cleanup hitter took the first-pitch fastball he expected for a strike, swung at and missed a low forkball, then took one for a ball. Fujikawa's third straight low forkball proved one too many.
"If he had bounced a forkball on that pitch, I would have struck out swinging," Ramirez said. "He gave me a good pitch to hit."
Ramirez smacked it up the middle past the glove of diving second baseman Keiichi Hirano as the Giants bench erupted in celebration as two runs scored.
Daisuke Ochi, who had pitched out of a seventh-inning jam, retired the dangerous Matt Murton to open the eighth, and lefty Tetsuya Yamaguchi recorded the last five outs for his second save of the series.
"Ochi and Yamaguchi did a solid job for us," said Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, who used five relievers after starter Hideki Asai gave up two runs in the first inning.
"They [Ochi and Yamaguchi] were on the spot because the previous guys had given up so many runs."
An error opened the door for Yomiuri's two runs against Tigers right-hander Yasutomo Kubo, who worked six innings.
Kubo should have been out of the fifth inning with a double play, but Hirano took his eye off the ball. The second baseman, who had stymied the visitors with two sharp plays in the fourth inning, fumbled the ball. Ogasawara singled in the lead runner from second and with men on the corners, Ramirez's fly to center made it a 3-2 game.
A fumble by Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto helped the Tigers to a run in the bottom of the inning against right-hander Micheal Nakamura. In the sixth, Hanshin widened the lead with two runs off southpaw Yasunari Takagi.
With a runner on second and one out, the Giants opted to pitch around Murton, only for Hirano to triple home two runs and make it a 6-2 game.
With things going the Tigers way, Kubota came in to keep the Giants down, but it didn't happen.
Ogasawara doubled and was on third with two outs when Hirano was unable to make a good play on a grounder to his left. He fumbled the ball, was harshly charged with an error and Takahashi hammered a hanging first-pitch slider.
"That was a huge blast for us," Hara said. "That guy [Kubota] had been getting us out all year. It was a big two-run homer at exactly the right time.
"You could see the troubled looks on the faces of the opposing team."
Ochi entered in the seventh and got two quick outs before a single and a walk gave Hanshin hero Shinjiro Hiyama a chance to change the momentum. Hiyama, Hanshin's career pinch-hit leader, fanned to end the inning and the Tigers' last good scoring chance.
Closer Fujikawa was charged with protecting the one-run lead over two innings. Like Kubota, he got two quick outs before things caved in.
"Both teams expected this to be a battle," said Hara, who got three innings of solid relief from Seth Greisinger after Asai failed to make an impact.
"We split our season series 12-12, and the difference between winning and losing this weekend was a very fine one.
"Our team's morale, was I think higher than the Tigers."
While the Giants advance in their first-ever road playoff games, the Tigers became three-time losers. Hanshin has qualified for the Climax Series three times and has yet to get out of the first stage despite playing two of those series at home.