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John E. Gibson

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Giants' drive to pennant hits bump

by John E. Gibson (Oct 10, 2008)

The euphoric atmosphere that produced magic two nights ago did a disappearing act on Thursday as the pennant-seeking Yomiuri Giants laid an egg against the lowly Yokohama BayStars.

Yuki Yoshimura hit a three-run homer in the first inning and Shuichi Murata clubbed a two-run shot in the fifth to help lift the last-place BayStars past Central League-leading Yomiuri 8-4 before 45,172 at Tokyo Dome.

A night after taking a one-game lead over the Hanshin Tigers in a showdown at the Big Egg, Yomiuri stumbled on the mound.

Starter Hisanori Takahashi (8-5) didn't make it through the third inning and a pair of errors contributed to a loss that boosted the Tigers' chances of overtaking the Giants heading into the final weekend.

The Giants' lead over idle Hanshin fell to a precarious half-game margin, and their magic number remained at two with a pair of games left on their schedule. The Tigers have three games remaining, with their finale on Sunday night at Skymark Stadium against Chunichi.

"We can't give up eight runs on four hits by the fifth inning," Yomiuri skipper Tatsunori Hara grumbled afterward.

"This is competition, but I didn't see us compete tonight. We have to regroup and go back at it tomorrow."

The Giants can clinch the top CL's spot today with a win at Jingu Stadium against Tokyo Yakult combined with a Hanshin loss to the BayStars. The Giants' season finale is Saturday at Jingu.

Some sloppy play by the Giants aided Yokohama's first three-run rally. Yomiuri third baseman Michihiro Ogasawara couldn't make a clean transfer on a grounder by Hiroaki Onishi, allowing him to reach to open the game.

Two outs later, Takahashi walked Shuichi Murata and Yoshimura went deep for the 34th time as Yokohama took a 3-0 lead.

"The Giants and Takahashi have done a number on us all season, but in this at-bat I was able to put a good swing on the ball and I hit it pretty well," Yoshimura said.

Takahashi was yanked after his second walk of the third inning loaded the bases. He worked 2-1/3 innings, allowing six runs--none earned--on two hits and three walks.

Masafumi Tono came on and a pass ball made it 4-0 Yokohama before an RBI groundout by Yoshimura and a single by Tatsuhiko Kinjo made it 6-0 BayStars.

CL MVP candidate Alex Ramirez got Yomiuri going by smacking his 44th homer, a solo shot off Yokohama starter Yuya Ishii in the fourth inning to momentarily take sole possession in the lead in the CL home run race.

The mammoth shot clanked off the back wall, an estimated 140 meters from the plate.

After a single by Lee Seung Yeop, Yoshitomo Tani followed with his second extra base hit off Ishii, a high shot that just carried over the wall down the left-field line for his 10th longball--a two run shot.

But in the top of the fifth, Murata got even with Ramirez by jumping on a hanging breaking pitch from Tono with a man on, belting his 44th homer--just fair down the left-field line--to put the BayStars ahead 8-3.

Ishii (2-0) made it through the minimum five innings to pick up the win. The lefty gave up three runs--coming by way of two homers on five hits and three walks, while fanning four.

He was around for the first of three consecutive walks to Ramirez--with catcher Takehiro Ishikawa still in a crouch but setting up way outside--to prevent the outfielder from passing Murata in home runs.

About the walks to Ramirez, Hara had "no comment," saying that reporters would have to ask Yokohama about that strategy.

The final walk came from Hayato Terahara in ninth and put two runners on with one out. But Lee struck out and Yoshinobu Takahashi grounded out to end the game.

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Oh named WBC adviser

Nippon Professional Baseball commissioner Ryozo Kato on Thursday announced that recently retired Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks manager Sadaharu Oh has accepted a role as a special adviser to him in preparation for the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

Kato, speaking at a Tokyo press conference, also announced that an organizing committee has been set up and will meet for its first talks on the WBC team on Oct. 15.

The committee is to include Rakuten Eagles skipper Katsuya Nomura, who has been suggested as a candidate to lead the WBC squad next year, Yakult manager Shigeru Takada and Senichi Hoshino, who guided Japan at the recent Beijing Olympics, where it finished fourth.

Kato said he would like Oh, who skippered Japan to the championship in the inaugural WBC in 2006, to participate in the meetings as an adviser for the WBC, which will be played in March.

"Whoever it is we select, we want to make every effort to ensure that they are the best for Japan," Kato said. "To that end, we would like to do all we can to make the best use of the knowledge that Oh has."

Oh, whose last game on SoftBank's bench was Tuesday in Sendai, said he is prepared to do what he can in a supporting role.

"I will extend my full cooperation in helping Japan develop its team," said the 68-year-old Oh, who retired from SoftBank because of poor health.

"I think every country was feeling its way around the first time, but I expect the U.S. and Central and South Americans teams to really step it up this time."


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