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Fernandez delays Seibu's party

by John E. Gibson (Sep 24, 2008)

The hardest-hitting team in the Pacific League will have to work a little harder before it can reach the top of the mountain.

The gutsy Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles showed they can hit pretty hard themselves, keeping Saitama Seibu's celebration on hold with a 10-7 win before 33,229 on Tuesday at Seibu Dome.

Jose Fernandez ripped a line-drive grand slam after a dribbler and some shoddy Seibu defense contributed to a five-run inning for Rakuten that spoiled the Lions' championship-clinching party.

The Lions had just come up with a five-run eighth inning to take a 7-5 lead, but Fernandez--who went 3-for-5 with two homers and seven RBIs--slapped Seibu out of its PL-title-clinching daze.

"I was really just looking for a pitch to drive and tie the ballgame. We had a runner on third with less than two outs, so it was time to execute," said Fernandez, who played for Seibu in 2004 and '05.

"He left a pitch right over the heart of the plate and I got good contact," said the politically correct-minded Fernandez, who then admitted, "I crushed it."

Fernandez said he didn't want to be around to see a title celebration for another team.

"They're going to celebrate--they're eventually going to win it--but we want to be out of town when it happens. We don't want to be the victims."

The homer, Fernandez's 16th, came off Seibu's lights-out closer Alex Graman (3-3), who entered the game having blown just three saves all season.

Graman had also gone nine consecutive appearances without allowing a run, but could only manage two outs with a two-run lead in a title-clinching situation. He allowed five runs, three earned, on three hits and a walk.

"We really came together as a team and put everything in Graman's hands. But sometimes these things happen," Lions skipper Hisanobu Watanabe said, pointing to his team's lack of inexperience.

"When you're under pressure, you make plays like that," the skipper said of a ninth-inning error that helped Rakuten load the bases with one out.

"We have a lot of players who haven't been in a game like this, but we can use today's experience and hopefully come back tomorrow and play a good game. [Winning] today would have been better, though."

The second-place Orix Buffaloes lost to reduce Seibu's magic number to one, but the Lions couldn't close it out against the last-place Eagles, who rallied when they could have easily folded.

The win went to Tsuyoshi Kawagishi (3-3), who gave up a two-out, three-run double to Taketoshi Goto that put Seibu on top in the bottom of the eighth inning. Kawagishi rebounded to close it out with a 1-2-3 ninth.

The game saw both teams trade haymakers and body shots.

The Lions lost slugger Craig Brazell in the second inning after he took a Hideki Asai pitch off the back of the right elbow and left the game. He went to a nearby hospital for X-rays that were negative.

Chikara Onodera in the eighth inning hit Rakuten's Kensuke Uchimura in the head and was ejected after one pitch.

Fernando Seguignol made the Lions pay by blasting a two-run homer, his 11th since being picked up on July 31, to give the Eagles a 5-1 lead. But Seibu came back with five in the bottom of the frame.

Meanwhile, PL home run leader Takeya Nakamura blasted a record-setting solo shot in the second inning.

Nakamura's towering blast just cleared the fence in left for his 44th longball, surpassing the team's single-season total for Japanese players, shared by Koji Akiyama and Koichi Tabuchi. Slugger Alex Cabrera, now with Orix, holds the club record with 55, which he hit in 2002.

That figure is likely out of range, but the hefty Nakamura could get to the half-century mark with seven games left.


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