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John E. Gibson

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Toughness pays off as Dragons triumph

by John E. Gibson (Oct 25, 2010)

The Chunichi Dragons don't set the world on fire with their offense, but their burning desire to win was evident.

The Dragons put on a mental show of toughness, wrestling last year's Japan Series champion Yomiuri Giants into submission with a 4-3 walk-off win at Nagoya Dome on Saturday to complete their 4-1 victory in the final stage of the Central League Climax Series.

Dragons cleanup hitter and CL MVP candidate Kazuhiro Wada was named the series top performer. His only hit in five trips to the plate on Saturday came with two on in the ninth inning and the outfield playing in. Wada lined a shot that carried over the head of a leaping Alex Ramirez in left field to plate the game-winning run.

It was the CL-winning Dragons' 13th sayonara win this year and gave them a 13-3 record against the Giants here this season. They finished 18-10 overall against the Giants.

"This game was symbolic of the way we've played here this year," said skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai, who took over the club in 2004 and has guided the team to four appearances in the Series.

"What was this, the 13th sayonara victory? We need to finish these games faster," Ochiai joked.

"But that's the way we are. The pitchers do what they can to hold the other team down, the batters try to get runs and in the field they try not to mess things up. But it takes a lot to win one of these games."

The Dragons, who started the series with a one-win advantage, were the perfect illustration of the belief that good-pitching-beats good-hitting. Their hurlers wriggled out of jams throughout the CLCS, driving the Giants batty in all four games.

Chunichi pitchers walked four hitters, one intentionally, in the series, while the Giants walked 15--six of whom eventually came around to score. Yomiuri walked five in the last two innings of Game 4.

But in the series finale, the Giants got to a pair of shut-down relievers in the eighth and ninth innings. The batters, however, came through just three times with runners in scoring position in the four games.

"We couldn't get to their pitching staff and that's why the series ended up the way it did," Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara said.

"We came into the season with the same goal [as last year] and we weren't able to achieve it today. The Chunichi Dragons will go to the Japan Series as the Central League representatives, and I hope they compete hard."

The Dragons cruised in the opener and then gutted out two of three one-run games, their MO under Ochiai.

"Looking back at this series, it was all about winning this first game," Ochiai said. "They way we went in and took that one laid the foundation for this win tonight.

Each team had 32 hits in the series, but Wada came through off loser Yuya Kubo. The righty, pitching in his fourth straight game, recorded just one out in the ninth and walked a pair to set the Dragons up.

Hara went to the mound after the second free pass and urged Kubo to stop nibbling. Wada ate up his first-pitch fastball that got too much of the plate.

"If [Wada] didn't get a hit there, who knows how this game would have gone," Ochiai said. "But frankly, we didn't want to have to play again [on Sunday]."

The Dragons won the Japan Series in 2007, when they finished second in the league and swept the Giants in the playoffs.


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