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Goto roars for Lions

by Jim Allen (Jun 30, 2008)

Whether a star was born this weekend or it was just the hopes of a proud father's stardom being re-ignited, only time will tell.

Taketoshi Goto, whose career had stalled after his rookie season, completed a weekend to remember on Sunday at Seibu Dome.

A day after his first child was born, the 28-year-old hit his first Pacific League home runs in five seasons to help propel the Saitama Seibu Lions to a 9-5 mauling of the Chiba Lotte Marines.

"No home runs in five years is kind of sad. But I owe a lot to the people on the farm who kept encouraging me and reminding me I was not out of chances," said Goto, whose wife gave birth to a son on Saturday evening. "I want him to try hard, and I want him to know that his dad is doing his best, too."

Goto, whom the Lions signed as a premium pre-draft selection in the autumn of 2002, played just half a season as a rookie. Since then, he had spent most of his career in the Eastern League, where he has developed into a dependable hitter.

"He's been busting his butt on the farm, but we had been playing so well that there was little opportunity for him up here," Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe said. "Because he had been working hard at playing the outfield and because we hit a rough spell, I thought the time was right to bring him up."

Goto had three hits in his season debut on Friday, but his failure to get a bunt down in Saturday's 11-3 defeat left some unanswered questions.

"There's no question he can hit, but if he can't do the little things, a regular spot in the batting order is tough," Watanabe said. "If he applies himself to those issues as he has to his hitting and fielding, then he could be a very useful player."

The Lions took the early lead after Yasuyuki Kataoka led off the bottom of the first with a double off Marines starter Hiroyuki Kobayashi (2-8), but the visitors tied it 1-1 in the top of the second when Tomoya Satozaki homered for the third straight game.

Goto, however, untied it in the second. With no outs and a runner on first, he got good extension on a fastball away and homered to center.

"I was thinking about my failure yesterday in a similar situation," Goto said. "I had to get over that somehow and prove to the skipper I belonged."

The Marines tied it up in the top of the fourth as Shoitsu Omatsu took Fumiya Nishiguchi (4-3) deep with a two-run shot.

Kobayashi got Goto to fly out to open a 1-2-3 fourth that ended the right-hander's second trip through the Seibu order, but Kobayashi's third visit to the Lions' den proved fatal.

Although Lions third baseman Takeya Nakamura's nickname is Okawari-kun, Goto was the one who took a second helping. Two pitches after a Nakamura three-run bomb--his 17th--made it 8-3, Goto sent center fielder Daisuke Hayakawa leaping in vain to the top of the center field wall to watch another shot sail beyond his grasp.

"I didn't think that one would get over," Goto said. "That's a gift for my wife."

The win allowed the Lions to remain a full game ahead of the second-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. The teams will square off in three games at Sapporo Dome, starting on Tuesday.

"This is going to be big, and it's going to be interesting," Watanabe said.


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