CHIBA--On a muggy summer Sunday afternoon and mired in a seven-game losing streak, you might say the heat was on the Softbank Hawks.
But a game-tying two-run pinch-hit homer by Hiroshi Shibahara in the eighth inning and a two-run broken play in the ninth gave Sadaharu Oh's club just the relief they were looking for--a 7-6 victory over Lotte in a nail-biter at Chiba Marine Stadium.
"I had no idea just how big this game really was for us," said Shibahara, whose rocket to right off reliever Yasutomo Kubo made it 5-5 in the eighth. "We are all so relieved to finally get a win again. Now we just want to keep it going."
The Marines nearly reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the eighth when Saburo Omura tried to score from first on a double down the left-field line by Toshiaki Imae, only to be thrown out on a close play at the plate to end the inning.
In the top of the ninth, Yuichi Honda singled off Kubo, prompting Marines skipper Bobby Valentine to bring in lefty Kodai Matsumoto. Munenori Kawasaki then bounced a double over the head of Lotte first-baseman Kazuya Fukuura to leave runners at second and third with one out before Naoyuki Omura hit a grounder to short. Tsuyoshi Nishioka's throw home was high and it got away from catcher Tomoya Satozaki, who was charged with an error on the play, as both Honda and Kawasaki came around to score.
The Marines got one back in the bottom of the ninth, with Fukuura hammering an RBI double off the wall in center off reliever C.J. Nitkowski. Oh then brought in Yuuki Kume to face Satozaki, who he walked on four pitches, but three batters later the right-hander got Benny Agbayani to fly out to left field with the bases loaded to preserve the win.
While Valentine was obviously not pleased with the result, he was happy with his club's effort.
"Today was a great game," said Valentine. "I'm very proud of the players--this is as good as we've played in a long time. I love their fight, love the way they're swinging the bats. We're playing good baseball right now and if we continue like that we'll make the playoffs and bring another championship to Chiba."
Akihiro Yanase (1-1) got the win in relief of starter Tsuyoshi Wada, who gave up five runs on eight hits through seven innings. Yanase restricted the Marines to one run on two hits in 1 1/3 innings and Kume got his third save of the season, holding Chiba hitless in two-thirds of an inning.
Kubo (2-4) took the loss, allowing two runs on a pair of hits in two-thirds of an inning. Marines starter Hiroyuki Kobayashi ended up with a no-decision after allowing three runs on six hits over five innings.
After taking the first two in the series, the Marines looked like they might get out the broomsticks when they struck for four runs in the fifth to go up 5-3. After a leadoff double by Imae, Lotte got RBI singles from Jose Ortiz and Satozaki, a sacrifice fly by Omura and a run-scoring double from Agbayani, all off Softbank starter Wada.
But that only set the stage for Shibahara's heroics in the eighth and the edge-of-your-seat finish, the second straight day of drama in Chiba.
Kawasaki went 3-for-5 at the dish with an RBI for the Hawks while Michael Restovich got the start at DH and drove in a run. Softbank improved to 40-41 with the win.
Fukuura had a pair of doubles and drove in two runs in a losing cause for the Marines, who saw their record fall to 36-45.
On Saturday, Shoitsu Omatsu drove in six runs and Nishioka hit a rare inside-the-park home run as the Marines overcame a 6-1 deficit to beat the Hawks 12-6. Chiba Lotte won Friday's series opener 10-1.
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Notes: Wada threw 118 pitches Sunday, which means he donated 2,360 vaccinations to needy children in Asia through a charity he works with. Wada donates 10 vaccinations for every pitch he throws and he doubles that when the club wins ... The announced attendance at Sunday's game was 26,227 ... Temperatures at Chiba Marine Stadium on Sunday afternoon reached 31 C.
(IHT/Asahi: July 7,2008)