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Rob Smaal

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Dragons clinch 2nd straight CL flag with 10-inning tie

by Rob Smaal (Oct 20, 2011)

A three-run home run off the bat of Tony Blanco gave the Chunichi Dragons a 3-3 10-inning tie with the BayStars on Oct. 18 at Yokohama Stadium, clinching the second straight Central League pennant for the Nagoya club and the ninth in the team's history.

After staking the BayStars to a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning, Dragons slugger Blanco tied it in the sixth with a two-out three-run homer to center off Yokohama starter Futoshi Kobayashi. It was Blanco's 16th bomb of the season, and his most important one of 2011.

After relief ace Takuya Asao struck out Yoshitomo Tsutsugo on a forkball in the dirt to end the 10th frame, the Dragons poured out of the dugout and formed a mob on the pitcher's mound. It wasn't long before manager Hiromitsu Ochiai -- who will lose his job after this season -- was being tossed in the air by his players in the traditional doage.

The game was limited to 10 innings due to time constraints in effect this season to reduce the use of electricity after the March 11 earthquake.

Naoto Watanabe doubled in a run in the home half of the fourth inning for Yokohama and Yuta Naito knocked a two-run single over a drawn-in infield later in the frame. All three runs came off Chunichi starter Maximo Nelson, who gave up four hits through four innings of work.

It marked the first time ever that the Dragons have won the CL title in consecutive years.

The Dragons had earlier opportunities to seal the CL title with a win, but they lost three in a row to the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome over the weekend.

Also Oct. 18, the second-place Yakult Swallows beat the Hanshin Tigers 4-0 at Koshien Stadium, meaning that the Dragons needed a win or tie against the BayStars to clinch it.

After climbing to the top of the CL standings on Oct. 6, the Dragons swept a four-game series with the Swallows to reduce their magic number to two by Oct. 13.

On Oct. 14, the Dragons lost to the Giants 7-2 at Tokyo Dome, but the Swallows' 10-1 defeat to the Tigers allowed the Dragons to reduce the magic number to one.

The Dragons will get a first-round bye in the postseason before the facing the winner of the best-of-three series between the second- and third-placed clubs in the CL, the Swallows and the Giants.

The CL playoffs start Oct. 29, while the Japan Series gets under way Nov. 12. Last year, the Dragons lost to the underdog Chiba Lotte Marines in an NPB championship series that went seven games and included one tie.

As of Aug. 3, Chunichi was 10 games behind the then front-running Swallows. Over the next two months, however, the Dragons would catch, then overtake, the sputtering Swallows. The Dragons would sputter themselves a bit down the stretch, but they finally got it done.

The turning point in the season for Chunichi seemed to come just as the club announced on Sept. 22 that it would not be renewing the contract of manager Ochiai after this season. That announcement was made just three hours before a four-game series with the Swallows kicked off. The Dragons, who had struggled against the Tokyo team to that point with a 3-9-3 record, went on to take the series 3-1.

Chunichi has a 15-6-3 record since announcing Ochiai's impending ouster.


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