With the season on the line for his Chiba Lotte Marines, Tomoya Satozaki made sure there would be more baseball in Hokkaido this week.
On Tuesday night, the portly Marines catcher slammed a two-run, sixth-inning homer and drove in another run in the ninth to send the Marines to a 5-1 win over the Nippon-Ham Fighters in Game 4 of the second stage of the Pacific League Climax Series.
With the best-of-five series knotted at 2-2, the deciding Game 5 goes tonight, also at Sapporo Dome, with the winner booking a spot in the Japan Series against the Central League representative.
With his team down 1-0 in the sixth, Satozaki jumped all over a Masaru Takeda delivery, sending the ball over the fence in straightaway center after Saburo Omura had drawn a leadoff walk. Satozaki then drove in the Marines' third run in the ninth with a bases-loaded single off Fighters closer Micheal Nakamura.
Jose Ortiz followed with a single up the middle off Nakamura to plate two more runs for Bobby Valentine's club, setting up a do-or-die matchup tonight between two of the best young pitchers in Japanese baseball.
Fighters manager Trey Hillman will send Game 1 winner Yu Darvish to the hill against Marines left-hander Yoshihisa Naruse, who got the win in the first-stage clincher against the Softbank Hawks when he threw a five-hit, 4-0 complete-game shutout in Chiba a week ago.
Naruse, who turned 22 on Saturday, and righty Darvish, 21, finished 1-2 in ERA in the Pacific League this season. Naruse had a slight edge, 1.817 to 1.820, and he had one more win than Darvish (16 to 15). However, Darvish is much more of a power pitcher than Naruse, as evidenced by his league-leading strikeout total of 210, compared to 138 Ks for Naruse.
The two aces faced off against each other in Chiba on Sept. 12 and both guys were on their games. The Marines won that one 3-2, with Naruse allowing four hits over seven innings while striking out nine to get the win. Darvish whiffed 14 through eight innings and gave up five hits in a losing cause.
It should be a good one tonight as the Fighters hope to send their skipper back home a winner. Hillman has already decided to move on after this season, his fifth in Japan, in the hopes of landing a coaching or managing position in the major leagues.
This season, the 44-year-old Texan worked wonders with a team that lost several key players from last year's championship club and was last in the league in several offensive categories. Gone were the likes of PL MVP Michihiro Ogasawara, flamboyant outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo and reliever Hideki Okajima.
Hillman still had young Darvish to roll out every six days and Atsunori Inaba led the PL with a .333 average, but few people expected the club to finish the season in first place.
In the playoffs, Hammies leadoff hitter Hichori Morimoto has picked up his share of the slack, going 3-for-4 with three singles Tuesday to boost his postseason average to .500.
Nippon-Ham won the opener in this series, 5-2, with Lotte taking Game 2, 8-1, and the Fighters winning Monday's game, 7-0. All games have been played at Sapporo Dome.
(IHT/Asahi: October 18, 2007)