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Fighters win extra-inning firefight

by John E. Gibson (May 15, 2008)

With their ace having left the game after eight innings, their cleanup man on the sidelines with a lower-back strain and their closer just having allowed two runs in the top of the 11th inning, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters were staring their seventh loss in eight games right in the face.

But pinch-hitter Shinji Takahashi capped an unlikely three-run rally with a not-so-dramatic sacrifice fly as host Nippon Ham walked away with a fan-pleasing 4-3 win over visiting Chiba Lotte before 22,265 at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday.

The run-starved Fighters, whose .224 team batting average was the lowest in Japan before action started on Wednesday, came up with three runs on three singles and a costly error.

The rally came on the heels of Shoitsu Omatsu's sixth homer of the season, a two-run shot off Micheal Nakamura (2-0) that had given Lotte a 3-1 lead.

Nippon Ham skipper Masataka Nashida had to jumble his lineup after No. 4 batter Atsunori Inaba left the game in the sixth inning, but the Fighters found a way to win.

"Usually it's ideal in that case, when you start the inning with your No. 3 hitter," Nashida told reporters afterward.

"Today we had our normal No. 3 batter up, but after that we had made some changes. Despite that, Kensuke [Tanaka] did a great job of starting us off.

"When Micheal gave up those runs, it kind of shocked me, but we won and that shows that our team has a will to win."

Tanaka and Atsushi Ugumori opened the 11th with back-to-back singles to center.

Lotte catcher Takeshi Kanazawa picked up Hajime Miki's sacrifice bunt and fired it past first for a two-base error that brought Nippon Ham to within a run with runners on second and third. Eiichi Koyano singled home the tying run and Takahashi's hit one deep enough to score Miki from third.

Although Fighters starter Yu Darvish had a wobbly start, the game quickly developed into a pitcher's duel. He walked the second batter of the game on four pitches, but was bailed out when Kazuya Fukuura swung through a pitch on a hit-and-run for an inning-ending double play.

Darvish walked Jose Ortiz and gave up a single to Omatsu to start the second, but nailed the lead runner by fielding Takumi Kobe's attempted sacrifice and firing to third for the out.

Darvish left after eight innings, scatting five hits and four walks, while collecting eight Ks.

"It wasn't that I didn't have good stuff out there tonight, it's just that I wasn't careful when I should have been," Darvish said.

"The walks were silly, so I just have that to think about that as I get ready to pitch next time."

His replacement, Hisashi Takeda, tossed two perfect innings before Nakamura came on in the 11th.

Lotte starter Hiroyuki Kobayashi had his best outing of the season, but was left with nothing to show for it. All 150 pitches through nine innings earned him was a no-decision.

Kobyashi came in having lost his four games, a string that began with his previous quality start, a six-inning, three-run defeat on April 11 to the Fighters in Chiba.

The righty was even tougher on the Fighters this time, matching Darvish pitch-for-pitch through five innings.

The hosts grabbed the early lead after a leadoff single by Inaba. Terrmel Sledge followed with an infield single, but was rubbed out on a fielder's choice by Tomoyuki Oda that advanced Inaba to third.

Oda took out shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka at second base to break up a double play on a grounder to second as Inaba scored for a 1-0 lead.

The Marines got even in the sixth, thanks to a pair of Darvish mistakes. Shunichi Nemoto swatted the first poorly spotted offering to the gap in left-center field to open the frame. Fukuura cranked the next pitch to the gap in right center to tie it.


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