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Sato's performances lift Lions over Swallows

by John E. Gibson (May 23, 2008)

The Saitama Seibu Lions got the lead early, thanks in part to an Academy Award-worthy performance in a supporting role by the slugger, who then stole the spotlight by inching closer to the Pacific League home run lead in a 7-2 interleague win over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows before 14,236.

Sato got plunked twice and went 2-for-2, including his 12th homer--one behind teammate Craig Brazell--and added three RBIs as Seibu split its two-game set with Yakult.

The No. 5 hitter drew an RBI in a two-run third inning when he grabbed his foot after a low inside pitch and acted as if he had been hit.

Television replays appeared to show otherwise, but Sato was awarded first base and picked up the go-ahead RBI to boot.

"I'm glad I had a Yakult drink before the game," Sato joked.

He singled in the fifth and then blasted a two-run homer in the seventh that closed out the scoring.

His efforts backed Hideaki Wakui, who bobbed and weaved through some first-half trouble to toss his second complete game.

Wakui (5-3) gave up a season-high 10 hits, but walked just one, while fanning five in throwing 140 pitches.

"In the first inning, Wakui had good stuff. He gave up a lot of hits in the game, and they got a run in the first inning on a couple of flairs, but I never had the feeling he was getting hit hard," said Seibu skipper Hisanobu Watanabe.

"Before the game he said he wanted to go the distance tonight, and I let him go."

The Lions play host to the Yomiuri Giants for a pair, starting today at 6 p.m., and Takumi Kuriyama, who had a double and two RBIs, said the Lions won't focus on the Yomiuri name.

"We don't want to think about it as playing the Giants," he said with a smile. "We just want to look at it as just another regular season game, and try to put some wins together."

Watanabe said the PL's first-place team is up for the challenge.

"They have a strong lineup and they seemed to be playing well right now," he said of the Central League's third-place team.

"We'll get prepared as best we can and go after them."

Yakult cracked the seal on the game in its first at-bat when Kazuhiro Hatakeyama's RBI single scored Hiroyasu Tanaka with two outs.

The Lions came back to get the lead in the third inning with just one hit.

Hiram Bocachica drew a leadoff walk from loser Kyohei Muranaka (3-5), and Yasuyuki Kataoka followed with a soft--but well-placed--bouncer that went down the left-field line for a double.

After Kuriyama's Japan-leading fifth sacrifice fly made it 1-1, Muranaka hit a wild streak, walking the next two. His first pitch to Sato with the bases jammed earned Sato an RBI.

The Lions actually put their bats to use to rally for three in the fourth inning.

Toru Hosokawa doubled off the wall in left-center field with one out and scrambled home on Kataoka's third hit of the game, a single to left with two outs.

Kuriyama sent a liner to the gap in left center and Kazuki Fukuchi's diving attempt was futile. Shinichi Takeuchi was there to back up, but he bobbled the ball twice and that was enough time for Kataoka to scoot home.

Hiroyuki Nakajima capped the rally with a clutch single through the left side for a 5-1 lead.

Yakult made it 5-2 Seibu on Yuichi Matsumoto's sacrifice fly in the fifth.


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