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Rob Smaal

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Old pals Aoki, Rami light up Tokyo Dome

by Rob Smaal (Jul 2, 2008)

Two old teammates slugged it out Tuesday night at Tokyo Dome, with Norichika Aoki's Swallows getting the better of Alex Ramirez and his Giants, and the newest addition to Yakult came up with a clutch hit as the Swallows downed crosstown rival Yomiuri 7-4.

Shinichi Takeuchi tripled in the go-ahead run in the fifth inning and Wilson Valdez, a light-hitting Dominican shortstop recently signed by Yakult to fill in for regular Shinya Miyamoto during this summer's Olympics, followed up with a two-run single as the Swallows improved to 32-35 with the win.

Swallows starter Ryo Kawashima (3-2) combined with four relievers to pick up the win as Yakult out-hit Yomiuri 9-7. Right-hander Kawashima went five innings, allowing four runs on five hits. He struck out nine and issued one walk.

Closer Lim Chang Yong worked a scoreless ninth to earn his 19th save, getting Shinnosuke Abe to ground into a double play to end it.

Daisuke Ochi (2-0) took the loss in relief of starter Takahiko Nomaguchi, who lasted just three frames, giving up four runs on five hits. Ochi pitched two innings, allowing three runs on two hits and two walks.

Aoki and Ramirez spent the previous three-plus seasons playing next to each other in the Swallows outfield before Rami moved to the big-spending Giants in the offseason. The first time they met, in fact, was back in 2003, when Ramirez was starring for Yakult and Aoki was still playing at Waseda University. Ramirez recalled the young Aoki asking for his autograph at a Brazilian steakhouse in Omotesando.

On Tuesday, Aoki went 3-for-4 with a home run, triple, a walk, a pair of RBIs, three runs scored and a stolen base and his club may have won the game, but his old buddy Ramirez still managed to steal some of his thunder, cranking a pair of home runs and driving in four runs on a 4-for-4 night. Ramirez raised his batting average to .320 and upped his RBI total to a league-best 64.

"Aoki, Takeuchi and Wilson were our big guns today," said Yakult skipper Shigeru Takada, "and we also got some great relief pitching, especially from (Ryota) Igarashi and Lim."

The Swallows got a pair of runs in the top of the first inning, with Aoki smacking an RBI triple off ineffective Giants starter Nomaguchi past a diving Yoshitomo Tani in center field. Aoki then scored on a broken-bat groundout to short by Kazuhiro Hatakeyama and Ryohei Kawamoto hit a sacrifice fly to right in the second to make it 3-0.

Ramirez led off the bottom of the second with an opposite-field solo homer to right, his Central League-leading 21st long ball of the season, off Yakult starter Kawashima.

Aoki smoked the first pitch of the third inning from Nomaguchi into the stands in right to make it 4-1, his ninth HR of the year, but Ramirez answered back in the fourth, lining a three-run shot over the wall in left field off Kawashima to square things up. It was the third homer in three at-bats for Ramirez, who hit a ninth-inning grand slam Sunday in the Giants' 6-1 win in Hiroshima.

But the Swallows put a three-spot on the board in their half of the fifth, Valdez blooping a two-run single into right shortly after Takeuchi had tripled to score Aoki.

Elsewhere, the Hiroshima Carp edged the Yokohama BayStars 3-2 at Yamagata Prefectural Stadium. At Koshien Stadium the Hanshin Tigers beat the Chunichi Dragons 8-3

In the Pacific League, the Chiba Lotte Marines hammered the Rakuten Eagles 7-2 at Iwate Prefectural Stadium. At Kyocera Dome, the Orix Buffaloes defeated the Softbank Hawks 4-1.


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