YOKOHAMA – After what seemed like an eternity, the Chunichi Dragons finally got rid of their magic number. They’ll gladly be replacing it with another championship banner.
Tony Blanco hit a game-tying three-run home run in the sixth inning, and Takuya Asao struck out Yoshitomo Tsutsugo to end the game in the 10th and preserve a 3-3 tie with the Yokohama BayStars that clinched the Dragons’ second-consecutive Central League pennant on Tuesday night at Yokohama Stadium.
“It symbolized our whole season,” Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai said of the clincher.
The Dragons have won back-to-back pennants for the first time in their history.
The league title gives the Dragons a berth in the second stage of the Central League Climax Series. Chunichi will host the first-stage winner in the final round and will have an automatic one-game advantage when that series begins Nov. 2 at Nagoya Dome.
Chunichi’s latest triumph comes as Ochiai prepares for his final game in the Dragons’ dugout. Ochiai, who has now led the team to four pennants in his eight seasons in charge, was informed last month that his contract would not be renewed after this season. He could go out on top if his Dragons advance to and win the Japan Series.
“Well, before that, we’ve got to win (in the second stage),” Ochiai said. “We’ve met one goal, but we’re going for the other goal.”
Dragons players rushed the field after the final out, and tossed Ochiai into the air during the traditional doage.
Chunichi’s fans could finally exhale after finally being able to celebrate a moment they hoped would’ve come much sooner.
“I was waiting too,” Ochiai said.
Chunichi arrived in Tokyo last week on the heels of a four-game sweep of the second-place Tokyo Yakult Swallows and with a magic number of two. Despite a loss to the Yomiuri Giants, the Dragons’ magic number was reduced to one after a Swallows loss on the same night.
The Dragons could’ve clinched the title each of the next two nights, but a pair of losses to the Giants left them still searching for that elusive final victory when they arrived in Yokohama.
Chunichi fell into an early hole when an RBI double by Baystars shortstop Naoto Watanabe put Yokohama ahead 1-0. Yuta Naito added a two-run single later in the inning to make the score 3-0.
Takehiro Donoue led off the sixth with a single for the Dragons. A two-out single by Masahiko Morino put runners on first and second for Blanco.
The Chunichi slugger fouled off the first two pitches he saw then laid off a pair of balls to even the count. He launched the next pitch, a 135-km shuuto, into the seats in centerfield to tie the score at 3-3.
Both teams had their chances later in the game, but neither was able to break through.
Dragons reliever Asao recorded the final out of the eighth and worked a scoreless ninth. He returned to the mound in the 10th to close out the pennant race.
Swallows beat Tigers
Ryoji Aikawa drove in two runs and Vladimir Balentien went 3-for-5 with an RBI single as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows beat the Hanshin Tigers 4-0 at Koshien Stadium on Tuesday night.
Shohei Tateyama (11-5) pitched his third shutout of the year on four-hit ball and no walks to win his first decision since Sept. 15 for Yakult, which saw its pennant hopes dashed with Chunichi’s tie over Yokohama.
Randy Messenger (12-7) took the loss.
Lions 4, Fighters 3
At Seibu Dome, Takeya Nakamura and Jose Fernandez both hit two-run homers as Seibu secured third place to clinch the last spot in the Climax Series with a win over second-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
Seibu’s dramatic win, coupled with the defeat of Orix, sent the Lions to the playoffs for the second year in a row on their last day of the regular season.
Nakamura belted his 48th home run of the season in support of Fumiya Nishiguchi (11-7), who struck out 11 over eight solid innings.
Hawks 4, Buffaloes 1
At Kyocera Dome, Katsuki Yamazaki had a two-run single to cushion the lead in the sixth as PL champion Softbank downed Orix to shockingly deny the Buffaloes a playoff berth.
D.J. Houlton (19-6) threw one-run ball over seven innings to match the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ Masahiro Tanaka for the league lead with 19 wins. Chihiro Kaneko (10-4) was roughed up for four runs in 5⅔ innings of the loss.
Aarom Baldiris hit a solo drive in the fourth for Orix’s sole run of the night.
Eagles 5, Marines 5 (11)