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Tempers flare; Lions' home runs fly

by John E. Gibson (May 1, 2008)

The Saitama Seibu Lions hit Fukuoka SoftBank starter Kenji Otonari a lot harder than he hit them.

Otonari plunked three Lions while only giving up four hits. Unfortunately for him, they were all home runs as Yasuyuki Kataoka, Hiroyuki Nakajima, Takeya Nakamura and Akira Eto all hit solo blasts off the southpaw to power the Lions past the Hawks in a 6-2 win on Wednesday before 12,497 at Seibu Dome.

The Lions, who are six games over .500, tied a Japan pro record by belting at least three homers in five straight games.

Seibu matched the 1980 Kintetsu Buffaloes, the 1987 Hankyu Braves and the 1991 Chunichi Dragons for consecutive games and can break the record in tonight's rubber game of the three-game set.

The Lions, who are a Japan-leading 43 homers, are delighted to be in first place in the Pacific League, but were fuming about the inside pitches.

"If you count yesterday's game, it was the fifth time they've hit us with pitches," Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe said.

"They're beating us up. I don't think they're doing it on purpose and I know they have young pitchers, but you have to question whether they think they have to hit us instead of compete.

"It's our job as the coaching staff to protect our players," said Watanabe, who had to be held back while shouting at Fukuoka skipper Sadaharu Oh and Otonari after Toru Hosokawa was hit.

Otonari (2-4) obviously struggled with his control at times. He didn't have a walk in six-plus innings, but his wildness caused the Lions to get a little wild themselves.

Otonari nailed Brazell near the shoulder with one down in the fourth. The next batter, G.G. Sato, took one off the leg, and hopping-mad batting coach Hiromoto Okubo had to be restrained from going after the second-year hurler.

Players from both teams left the bench and met between the mound and home, delaying the game for five minutes.

Otonari eventually got out of the jam without allowing another run, but hit Hosokawa in the fifth inning. That angered Watanabe and a four-minute delay ensued as the teams left their respective dugouts a second time.

Kazuhisa Ishii (4-1) worked seven-plus innings, yielding a pair of runs on three hits and two walks, while fanning six to earn the win.

His biggest mistake was a hanging curve to Hiroki Kokubo, who hadn't gone deep since April 15, but launched his fourth homer of the season--the 350th of his career--to leadoff the second inning. The shot gave SoftBank a 1-0 lead.

"I've gotten to 350 homers, but I don't feel like it's a milestone and I don't feel like it's anything special," said Kokubo, who became the 21st player in Japan pro baseball to hit that many.

"I'm more concerned about the fact that I wasn't hitting homers. I hope this one can help get me going."


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