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Some very Giant steps / Home run spree leads to rout of CL-leading Tigers, cuts gap to 1 game

by Jim Allen (Sep 21, 2008)

The Central League pennant race isn't over yet, the Giants just made it look that way on Saturday night.

Yomiuri moved to within a game of the league-leading Hanshin Tigers, who played dead in a 9-1 whipping before 46,776 at Tokyo Dome.

The Giants unleashed a four-home run barrage to win their ninth straight game--their longest winning streak since 1992--and leave the Tigers looking like the underdogs in a pennant race Hanshin had dominated for months.

Alex Ramirez's 40th homer, a three-run shot in the first, put the Giants on track. Ramirez had two hits, giving him 1,337 for his Japan career to tie him with Wally Yonamine for the most ever by a foreign player.

Although starter Tetsuya Utsumi (10-8) was pushed to the edge early, he hung on for eight innings.

"All those runs made it easy for us as a battery," said catcher Shinnosuke Abe, who had three hits, including a homer, and three RBIs. "Utsumi was not at his best but he was tenacious."

Utsumi escaped a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the first, and Ramirez put the Giants in front moments later.

Lee Seung Yeop followed with a solo shot and made a good play at first base to prevent the Tigers from scoring more than a run in the second inning.

A couple of flares and a ground single gave the Tigers three on with one out yet again. Lee blocked a bullet off the bat of Keiichi Hirano that kept the ball in the infield and allowed the Giants to get an out on the play as a run scored.

"That was huge," said Giants manager Tatsunori Hara. "It slowed the Tigers down, held them to a run. We felt some pressure in this game, but Lee's play changed everything for us. Utsumi did a great job to hold them to a run, too."

Tigers southpaw Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi (11-6) lasted just 1-2/3 innings, his shortest start in the past three seasons. The seven runs allowed were the most since he gave up 10 to the Swallows on Aug. 1, 2007.

Utsumi, on the other hand, came in struggling. The 26-year-old had surrendered 12 runs over his previous two starts, and did not inspire much confidence until he had a six-run lead to work with.

Lee's play helped turn the tide, and Michihiro Ogasawara emphasized Yomiuri's dominance by homering with one on in the bottom of the inning. It was the two-time MVP's 31st homer of the season.

Ramirez restarted the run riot with a single and went to second when Shimoyanagi hit Yoshinobu Takahashi with a pitch. Abe's second single of the game plated Ramirez and brought an end to Shimoyanagi's wrong turn of an evening.

Tigers reliever Kenta Abe was ejected in the third inning for hitting Takuya Kimura in the head with a 141-kph fastball. Kimura was taken off the field on the stretcher and was taken to the hospital.

"You're always concerned when a player gets hit in the head like that," Hara said. "We'll just have to wait and see."

Ryo Watanabe entered and escaped a two-on, one-out pickle in the inning but allowed the Giants to reach the seats once more in the fourth. Takahashi doubled with one out and Shinnosuke Abe followed with his 20th homer of the year.

The crowd of 46,776 was the largest announced by the Giants since teams agreed to start reporting approximate attendance figures in 2005. The previous record was 46,260 on Oct. 2, 2007. Prior to 2005, the Giants routinely announced crowds as 55,000.


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