The Chunichi Dragons are going to the big dance once again.
Kazuhiro Wada came through with a clutch RBI in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday at Nagoya Dome as the Central League champion Dragons booked their spot in the Japan Series.
With one out, two men on and the game tied 3-3, Wada lined a pitch from Yuya Kubo over left fielder Alex Ramirez as the Dragons edged the Yomiuri Giants 4-3. Ramirez took a couple of steps to his left then reached up in vain as the ball sailed over his glove to the wall, allowing the game-winning run to cross the plate.
The walkoff win touched off blue-and-white celebrations at Nagoya Dome as it gave Chunichi a 4-1 victory in the best-of-seven Central League Climax Series Stage 2. The Dragons, who were given a 1-0 lead going into the series, will next host the Pacific League's Chiba Lotte Marines in Game 1 of the Japan Series on Saturday.
"We know who we play next and I'll just go out and do my best again," said series MVP Wada, looking ahead to the matchup with the Marines. "I really want to finish this season on a winning note."
For Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai, this will be his fourth trip to the Japan Series since the 2004 season. His club won it all in 2007 and prior to that the Dragons' only other Japan Series title came back in 1954.
"I expected that this season was going to be a tough one," said Ochiai. "It was very much like that, too, just like tonight's game."
The Giants are the defending Japan Series champions and they did not go down without a fight. With their backs against wall in Game 4 on Friday, catcher Shinnosuke Abe drilled a ninth-inning solo homer off Chunichi closer Hitoki Iwase to give Yomiuri a 3-2 win and send the series to a Game 5.
On Saturday, they scratched and clawed their way back into it too, after falling behind 2-0 in the fourth on a Kohei Oda two-run double to the gap in left-center off Giants starter Seth Greisinger.
The teams traded runs in the eighth, with the Giants scoring on a sacrifice fly to deep right by Michihiro Ogasawara and Chunichi replying in the bottom half when reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi walked in a run with the bases loaded.
The ninth inning saw more drama. In the top half of the frame, Kenji Yano bashed an RBI double off the wall in left off Dragons relief ace Takuya Asao to make it a 3-2 game. Veteran Yoshitomo Tani bunted Yano over to third, where he was replaced by pinch-runner Takahiro Suzuki. The speedy Suzuki scored easily on a groundout to second by Tetsuya Matsumoto to tie the game, setting the stage for Wada's heroics in the bottom of the ninth.
After Kubo walked rookie Ryoji Nakata and Masahiko Morino, Wada strode into a knee-high delivery that ended the game in dramatic fashion. Wada, a 38-year-old veteran, is coming off a fine season in which he led his club with a .339 average and also belted 37 home runs.
Ochiai elected to start 45-year-old left-hander Masahiro Yamamoto on Saturday. The 27-year veteran gave him four and one-third scoreless innings before Ochiai turned to his bullpen. Asao ended up getting the win, despite giving up two runs on two hits over one and two-thirds innings.