The Tigers are just a win away from their first trip to the Japan Series in nine years. With tonight’s 4-2 win over the Giants, the series now sits at 3-1 in favor of the road team, which needs just one win in its next three to advance.
Tonight’s win was slightly different from their previous two, in that the Tigers surrendered the lead for the first time in 5 playoff games. The Giants led off with a mini-rally capped by an RBI single from Abe. The score remained tight as the Tigers struggled to put men on base, and in the bottom of the third, the Giants extended their lead with a solo home run off the bat of Yoshiyuki Kamei, the third home run of the series for the men in orange. Down 2-0 and yet to threaten to score in the game, the Tigers came to the plate in the 4th.
Four batters in, the bases were loaded but a Ryota Arai strikeout and an Akihito Fujii fly ball later (great catch by Chono), the Tigers remained scoreless. Starter Randy Messenger settled in after the third, holding the Giants to two runs through five, but the Tigers had also only put four men on base at that point.
With half the game completed and no Tiger threat to score, this one looked as though it might go to the Giants. But there’s something different about these Tigers. Hiroki Uemoto, who survived a scary bean ball to the head in yesterday’s match, led off the sixth with a single. During Mauro Gomez‘s at-bat he stole second, giving the RBI king an easier chance to drive him in. The big Dominican came through, ripping a line drive to left field. The deficit had been cut in half. Matt Murton hit one in the same direction as Gomez had, and the Tigers had a runner in scoring position yet again. As the Giants pulled lefty Sugiuchi in favor of a right-handed reliever, the Tigers adjusted by replacing struggling righty Arai with red-hot lefty Kosuke Fukudome. He went right to work, upping his career average against Nishimura to .500 (5-for-10) with a double to left center, scoring Gomez. The rally looked promising still, as there was just one out and runners on second and third. Manager Wada decided to replace Fujii with pinch-hitter Sekimoto, but he only managed to strike out. The Giants saw Randy Messenger in the on-deck circle, and thinking of how to get an easy third out, decided to give the vacant first base to Yamato, walking him intentionally. Up came pinch-hitter Takahiro Arai. WHAT? Yes, the Tigers elected to pull Messenger after 5 innings of relatively effective (3 hits, 3 walks, 2 runs on 84 pitches) work. Unfortunately, Arai grounded out to second, and the score after the Tigers’ sixth was tied at 2.
Now the Tigers had to count on their relievers for 4 innings. Whom could they trust? Who was well-rested enough? They went with a combination of Takamiya, Andoh and Matsuda to get to the eighth, and they managed to hold down the fort. No exciting details here, just relievers doing what they could to keep the Giants off the board.
The Tigers bats had heated up, and they kept the momentum going in the seventh inning. Tsuyoshi Nishioka led off with a single, and a fielder’s choice later, captain Takashi Toritani, hitless on the night, came to the dish. All he did was whack an opposite-field drive down the left field line to push himself and Uemoto into scoring position. Once again, Gomez stepped up to the plate with a golden opportunity. He took it again, this time knocking in two runs with a single to left! Tigers lead, 4-2! Murton then walked, giving the team another chance to put runs on the board. Unfortunately, the bats sputtered again, but on this night, that was enough.
With two outs in the eighth and the Giants threatening (runners on first and second), Wada had had enough. Could his closer hold the Giants off yet again? He was pitching in his 10th straight game, after all! Four up, four down. (Thanks to a beautiful diving catch by Yamato to end the game!) Seung-hwan Oh has now gone 14 2/3 innings over 10 appearances without allowing a single run. Game over. Tigers lead the series 3-1, with the Giants only winning on paper.
Up next for the Tigers should be Atsushi Nohmi. The Giants could come with Yuki Koyama, but nothing has been announced yet. A win tomorrow night gives the Tigers the Central League Title for the first time since 2005. GO TIGERS!