TOKOROZAWA, Saitama--Although Kazuhisa Ishii's first Pacific League season was uninspired, his return to the postseason on Tuesday was business as usual.
The lefty allowed one earned run in seven innings as the Saitama Seibu Lions moved to within a win of the Japan Series with a 9-4 Game 4 victory over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. The Lions lead the best-of-seven second stage of the Pacific League Climax Series 3-2. As league champs, the Lions began the series with a one-game advantage.
Ishii, who joined the Lions as a free agent over the winter, went 11-10 with a 4.32 ERA. In the postseason for the first time since 2001, Ishii held the Fighters scoreless for six innings before allowing three runs, one earned, in the seventh. Although his exit was less than ideal, the lefty was spent after 136 pitches.
"This is different," Ishii said when asked how he suddenly turns on the intensity. "I was full of emotion out there. That's the difference."
Ishii, who improved his postseason record to 4-0 with a 0.88 ERA, walked two batters in the first inning but struck his way out of trouble against the fourth and fifth hitters.
"I didn't actually feel I was in a jam," Ishii said. "They were, however, pretty good strikeouts."
After playing catchup for two straight games, the Lions took a sizable early lead against Fighters starter Brian Sweeney. Yasuyuki Kataoka set the Lions up with a first-inning leadoff single and a stolen base. A sacrifice and a single by Hiroyuki Nakajima put the Lions in front.
"As soon as I get on, I've got my eye on the next base and then the one after that," said Kataoka, who had his first steal of the series after leading both leagues with 50 in the regular season.
It was the kind of start Seibu needed after watching the Fighters land most of the punches in the previous two games. A single by Takeya Nakamura put two on for Yoshihito Ishii to double home.
Hiroyuki Oshima's flare single to left plated Ishii to give the league champs a 4-0 lead--their first since knocking the Fighters' blocks off 10-3 in Friday's opener.
Three straight no-out singles in the second inning set the Lions up for an early knockout blow, but Seibu had to settle for a single score.
After a double play saved a run in the second, the failure to turn one proved costly in the third. A poor throw from second baseman Kensuke Tanaka allowed Toru Hosokawa to bat with two outs and take Sweeney over the center-field fence.
Sweeney, who had allowed 12 runs in 18 2/3 innings here during the season, was through after three, having allowed seven runs on 10 hits and no walks.
He was followed to the mound by Yataro Sakamoto. The right-hander, who like Lions lefty Ishii is in his first PL season after coming over from the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, threw two scoreless innings of relief.
The Fighters finally broke through for three runs in the seventh, preventing Ishii from racking up his third postseason shutout.
Jason Botts' second single of the game and Ishii's fourth walk, to Makoto Kaneko, put two on with one out. Hichori Morimoto singled home Botts, and center fielder Shogo Akada overran the ball, allowing Kaneko to score. Morimoto went to second on the error and scored on Shinya Tsuruoka's second straight hit.
Ishii, however, prevented further trouble with his 13th strikeout of the game, surpassing his postseason high of 12. He struck out 12 in Game 1 of the 1997 Series here in a 1-0 win over the Lions and repeated the feat in Game 1 of the 2001 Series, in a 7-0 shutout over the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes--then managed by current Fighters skipper Masataka Nashida.
The Lions returned to the offensive in the seventh and eighth innings, scoring single runs against rookie Naoki Miyanishi.
Botts homered off Lions closer Alex Graman in the ninth, but the Lions, who crashed and burned last season, can return to the Japan Series with a win here tonight.
The game will be a rematch between Game 1 starters Ryan Glynn of the Fighters and Hideaki Wakui of the Lions.