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Takahashi grounds Swallows

by Jim Allen (Sep 15, 2008)

Hisanori Takahashi knew he'd need to be good on Sunday and he responded with his best game of the season.

Eight days after hot Tokyo Yakult Swallows rookie Yoshinori Sato earned his first pro win over Yomiuri, Takahashi outdueled the 18-year-old in a 3-2 victory over Yakult at Tokyo Dome.

Before the game, battery coach Shuji Nishiyama spurred the southpaw on.

"Nishiyama reminded me that this guy was just a kid, and that it was my duty as a veteran to show some pride and get the job done," said Takahashi (6-4), who allowed two runs on six hits and two walks over seven innings.

The lefty, who has struggled since losing to the Swallows on Opening Day and entered the game with a 4.93 ERA, struck out six, including all three in the first.

"It was easily Hisanori's best game this season, but he's going to have to show that kind of pitching next time. His next start is going to be big for the whole team," said Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, referring to next weekend's series here against the Central League-leading Hanshin Tigers.

A week after Sato set down the first 14 Giants he faced at Jingu Stadium, Lee Seung Yeop put Yomiuri in front with a second-inning solo home run. Playing for the first time since Sept. 3, Lee hit the first pitch for an opposite-field homer to left.

This time around, Sato's control was more erratic and he let the Giants take a three-run lead in the third.

Michihiro Ogasawara's one-out double plated leadoff man Takanori Suzuki from second, and Alex Ramirez's ground smash up the middle made it 3-0.

Sato struck out seven, allowed four hits, walked four and hit a batter. He pitched out of three jams. Center fielder Norichika Aoki got the youngster out of the sixth with a run-saving, inning-ending catch.

"Nothing was really different from last time, so I don't see the need to change now," Sato said. "The pitches they hit were fat, but that is going to happen sometimes when you work aggressively."

Despite looking more vulnerable, Sato once again impressed Hara.

"We had several chances against him, but we just could not put him away," Hara said. "We forced him to pitch from the stretch but nothing fazed him. He's some pitcher."

However, Takahashi, who'd allowed four runs in each of his last two starts, was good enough to see the Giants to their fourth straight win.

"I really enjoyed pitching today," said Takahashi, who hadn't won since Aug. 16. "I've had a lot of games where I was bad early. I'm proud I could keep them from scoring first."

The 33-year-old pitched out of trouble in the second and fourth before Sato put the Swallows on the board with a fifth-inning sacrifice fly.

Takahashi dodged a bullet in the top of the seventh, when leadoff hitter Yasushi Iihara was called out looking at a pitch below the knees. Two batters later, 1.72-meter Keizo Kawashima homered to left with the bases empty to trim the Giants' lead to one.

"He gave up two runs," Hara said of Takahashi. "But he didn't give anything away with lots of bad pitches like he sometimes does."

Right-hander Kiyoshi Toyoda pitched a 1-2-3 eighth to set up closer Marc Kroon, who had his second nail-biting save in two days.

Kroon, who walked the bases loaded with no outs on Saturday before saving the Giants' 9-8 win, quickly had his back to the wall again. The flame-throwing right-hander hit the leadoff batter, and an error by second baseman Shigeyuki Furuki put runners on second and third.

With two outs, and two runners poised to score, Kroon bounced a forkball that catcher Shinnosuke Abe blocked with his mask to save a run.

The catcher was left spitting blood before Kroon struck out Yuichi Matsumoto for the final out of his 34th save.

"Abe put his body on the line for the team," Hara said. "You often hear about his batting, but that kind of play from our captain is what we need at this stage of the pennant race. It was an impact play, but that's what we've come to expect from him."


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