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Seibu gets in swing

by Jim Allen (Apr 27, 2008)

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing--at least not if you're Saitama Seibu Lions skipper Hisanobu Watanabe.

On Saturday, Hiroyuki Nakajima had the biggest swing: a three-run, eighth-inning blast that decided a 10-8 seesaw battle with the Orix Buffaloes at Seibu Dome.

The Pacific League-leading Lions entered the game with a Japan-best 30 home runs and added three more against Orix. Hiram Bocachica, in his first game since being recalled from the farm team, broke a 2-2 tie with a two-run homer in the sixth.

In the seventh, Takeya Nakamura hit what appeared to be a game-breaking, three-run shot off tough Orix starter Chihiro Kaneko.

"The production is a result of our guys taking big swings, not getting cheated at the plate," Watanabe said.

"Nakajima, coming up in that kind of pressure situation and taking that kind of swing, proved he knows what it's about."

Just minutes after the Buffaloes took the lead on Tuffy Rhodes' three-run homer in the top of the eighth, Nakajima fired back.

"When that [Rhodes' homer] went out I thought, 'I hope I get a chance to hit in the bottom of the inning," said Nakajima, who came up against Orix closer Daisuke Kato with two on and one out.

"I was looking fastball. It couldn't have been in a better location and I got all of it."

Nakajima got a 143-kph heater down the pipe and belted it well beyond the left-field fence for his fifth homer of the season and his third off Orix pitching.

"I have not hit that well when I've had chances to drive in runs, so today was pretty special. I'm stoked," said Nakajima.

"The only way I'm going to do something decisive is to hit, and I was thinking, 'Don't do it half way.' So I just put my best swing on it."

The Lions shortstop tied it 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth, when he doubled with two outs and scored on Craig Brazell's single.

The Buffaloes wasted chance after chance against Lions veteran Fumiya Nishiguchi, who allowed six hits and four walks but repeatedly pitched out of trouble.

"Nishiguchi was really tough, and it was an outing to be satisfied with," Watanabe said. "It's a shame he didn't get the win, but that's baseball."

The Buffaloes tagged three Lions relievers for a run in the seventh, and rocked lefty Koji Mitsui for five more in the eighth.

Three straight no-out singles off Mitsui set the table for Alex Cabrera. With one out, the former Lion doubled in two runs, trimming Seibu's edge to 7-5.

Rhodes followed by hammering a high 0-1 fastball and the Buffs were in front.

"Mitsui was frankly not very good, but the way his teammates came back and covered for him, you have to think that will help," Watanabe said. "I'm sure he'll be eager to do his part next time and I only expect the best from him."

Orix manager Terry Collins went to his bullpen in the eighth. Eric Junge allowed a single to Bocachica, who was cut down trying to steal. But Shogo Akada, whose 11th-inning grand slam won Friday's 4-hour 30-minute, 9-5 game drew a two-out walk. Pinch-hitter Akira Eto followed suit against lefty Makoto Yoshino (0-1), and Collins called in his closer.

Kato hadn't allowed a home run this season until he surrendered a 10th-inning sayonara homer on Thursday. The right-hander made it two homers on two pitches with his first delivery on Saturday.

"This game was too amazing," Watanabe said. "I'm not altogether happy about the way we won, but we never gave up until we did win."


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