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John E. Gibson

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Lions lose slugfest, fail to clinch

by John E. Gibson (Sep 25, 2008)

If the Saitama Seibu Lions had a little more fight where it counts, the Pacific League title race would already be over.

Instead, the Chiba Lotte Marines delivered the biggest blows in fight-marred 9-1 win before 28,613 on Wednesday at Seibu Dome.

Chiba sent 13 men to plate in a seven-run fourth inning during which Benny Agbayani--the third Marine hit by a pitch in the frame--got the thumb for igniting a fracas after he was hit by a pitch.

The Lions had a chance to nail down their first PL title in four years--16th overall--but Lotte used the big inning and a strong start from Yasutomo Kubo (3-7) to force Seibu to take its party plans on the road because the second-place Orix Buffaloes won in Fukuoka, freezing Seibu's magic number at one.

The Marines also had the Lions in need of ice. After being plunked, Agbayani took a step toward the mound, and Seibu catcher Toru Hosokawa tried to slow the Lotte outfielder down.

Agbayani wrapped up Hosokawa and slammed him to the ground, and the benches cleared in a melee that delayed the game for five minutes. Both teams received a warning.

Hosokawa left the game with what was called a sore left shoulder, and Agbayani will have to wait for the league to hand down a likely suspension. Orix's Tuffy Rhodes last season got a one-game ban for going after Lotte's Tomoya Satozaki in a similar incident.

"They've got to have better control than that," said Lotte skipper Bobby Valentine, who debated with umpires after the incident.

"I asked why only one person got thrown out of the game. I think it's got to be at least two," Valentine said, but he didn't have much to say about keeping Seibu from a title-clinching celebration.

"We're only worried about us, we're not worried about them."

With the victory, the Marines moved back into a third-place tie with the idle Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, and next play host to the Fukuoka Hawks in a pair of weekend games.

The Lions fell flat after losing twice to last-place Rakuten before the one-game debacle against Lotte. They won't have another chance to clinch the title until Friday night in Sapporo against the Fighters.

With the title on the line, Seibu starter Hideaki Wakui (9-11) endured one of the worst performance of his pro career. He allowed a career-worst seven runs in 3-1/3 innings, his shortest start of the season.

Shoitsu Omatsu, who hit a grand slam for his first career home run here in 2006, drove a cutter over the fence on a 3-2 pitch in the fourth. Julio Zuleta, who drew a walk to open the frame, scored ahead of him for a 2-0 Lotte lead.

"Zuleta had done a good job hanging tough in his at-bat, so I wanted to have a good at-bat as well," said Omatsu, who fouled off some tough pitches before ripping the ninth pitch for his team-high 24th homer.

"I was just lucky it stayed fair and went over the fence for me."

That homer seemed to put a dent in Wakui, who only managed one more out. With two on, Tsuyoshi Nishioka dropped an RBI single over the infield to plate Daisuke Hayakawa with Lotte's third run.

After an infield single by Jose Ortiz loaded the bases, Wakui plunked Satozaki on the left hand to force in a run for a 4-0 Lotte lead. That was all for Wakui, who surrendered eight hits, three walks and hit a batter on 103 pitches.

Omatsu, who went 3-for-4, came up again in the fourth and delivered a two-run single that capped the rally and gave him four RBIs in the inning.

Hashimoto and Ortiz each had two hits as every starter had at least one.

Kubo worked around nine hits and a walk by fanning three in his first complete game of the season. The only run he allowed came in the bottom of the fourth inning.


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