Chunichi escaped the first stage of the Climax Series with a 4-1 victory Monday ending Yakult's season. Despite scoring only 3 runs in the entire 3-game series Yakult had the Dragons on the ropes in Game 3 leading 1-0 in the 8th inning of the final and deciding game. That's when Chunichi loaded the bases on a double and two subsequent walks. With one out Yakult brought in their closer Tony Barnette, who had gone two innings to get the save in Game 2 the night before, to face Tony Blanco. Barnette quickly put himself in a bad spot, throwing three straight balls. Unwilling to pitch around Blanco at all, Barnette challenged Blanco with a 3-0 fastball straight across the heart of the plate, Blanco was ready and swinging 3-0 and unleashed a huge swing but was unable to connect. At 3-1 Barnette again came with his best fastball in nearly the exact same location, this time Blanco did not miss, he connected with a soaring, no-doubter, grand slam to left giving Chunichi the lead that they would not give up.As expected, the Chunichi-Yakult series was hard-fought and the outcome was in doubt until the final innings. Chunichi wasn't able to get any runs across against Yakult's starters Tateyama in Game 2 and Muranaka in Game 3, which wasn't unexpected as they struggled against them in the regular season. They were, however, able get men on base and get into Yakult's bullpen in both games, giving themselves a chance. Chunichi's bullpen outpitched Yakult's all series, giving up only 1 run to Yakult's 8. One thing that was surprising was how Chunichi's undermanned rotation shut down Yakult's hitters, giving up just two runs in the three games. Kenichi Nakata and Soma Yamauchi pitched well in their starts and Masa Yamamoto walked a tightrope for three innings, but gave up only one run, keeping Chunichi in the game. Wladimir Balentien had a huge series for Yakult, but the rest of their lineup really struggled against the Dragons' pitching and in the end Chunichi's offense provided just enough to move on to face Yomiuri.
The Final Stage against Yomiuri starts Wednesday. Chunichi will be without yet another starter for the series, as Kenichi Nakata's shoulder is not right. The deck is stacked against the Dragons in so many ways for this series, the playoff format, starting pitching injuries and of course, the Giants are loaded with talent. So it's going to take something close to a miracle for Chunichi to pull this off, the bullpen will have to pitch a lot and continue be great, they'll have to get something from one of their young starters and two or three other guys in their lineup will have to step it up and help Ohshima and Wada out. It all starts tomorrow, get fired up Dragons fans!