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Rob Smaal

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NPB Japan Series--Game 5: Giants head home in firm command

by Rob Smaal (Nov 7, 2008)

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Prefecture--Shinnosuke Abe and Ryota Wakiya made the most of their opportunities Thursday at Seibu Dome as each man drove in a pair of runs to propel the Yomiuri Giants to a 7-3 win over the Seibu Lions in Game 5 of the Japan Series.

The Giants now take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series back to Tokyo Dome where they will have a chance to close out the franchise's 21st career NPB title over the weekend.

Yomiuri's Kentaro Nishimura (1-0) picked up the win Thursday, pitching 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief. Closer Marc Kroon worked the ninth for Tatsunori Hara's club, giving up a solo home run to Hiroshi Hirao.

In the bottom of the first, the Lions jumped out of the gate with three consecutive singles off Giants starter Koji Uehara, loading the bases for cleanup hitter and Game 4 hero Takeya Nakamura. Uehara was able to get Nakamura--who homered twice the previous night--to strike out on a pitch in the dirt, but a fielder's choice groundout to second by Yoshihito Ishii allowed Yasuyuki Kataoka to score from third.

The following frame, Giants designated-hitter Abe, who is unable to catch this series due to a shoulder injury, teed off on a Hideaki Wakui fastball for a solo homer that just cleared the fence in straightaway center to make it 1-1.

In the bottom of the third, the Lions leaped ahead by a run. Yomiuri shortstop Hayato Sakamoto fielded a routine groundball from his Seibu counterpart Hiroyuki Nakajima, but made a throwing error on the play to leave Nakajima standing at second. Ishii once again cashed in with an RBI single to give the Lions the lead.

The Lions would go on to load the bases again, but the threat ended when Uehara struck out Ginjiro Sumitani, who had come into the game to replace Toru Hosokawa at catcher.

Those lost opportunities would come back to haunt the Leos in a big way. In the top of the seventh, lead-footed Kyojin slugger Alex Ramirez beat out a hustle double on a groundball that caromed off the second-base bag into right field and Abe followed with another clutch hit, an RBI single to tie it. After a double to center by Yoshiyuki Kamei, Wakiya stroked a two-run triple to the gap in left-center and the light-hitting Sakamoto then nailed an RBI double to make it 5-2.

That spelled the end of the evening for Seibu ace Wakui (1-1), who left the game with the following line: 6 1/3 innings pitched, five runs allowed on seven hits with six strikeouts and one walk.

Pinch-hitter Yoshitomo Tani singled in a run and Takahiro Suzuki squeezed home a run in the ninth, both off Lions reliever Shinji Taninaka. Giants infielder Wakiya was making his first second start of the series with struggling slugger Lee Seung Yeop relegated to the bench for pinch-hitting duty.

The game took a big toll on the Lions, who are already without two of their top power hitters from the regular season, Craig Brazell and G.G. Sato.

On Thursday, Hosokawa left the game in the third inning after sliding awkwardly into first base and Nakajima was unable to answer the bell in the fifth after tweaking a muscle in his left side swinging at a pitch.

The pitching matchup was a rematch of Game 1, in which Wakui held the Giants to one run on one hit through eight innings as the Lions won 2-1.

On Thursday, Uehara got the hook after throwing just 52 pitches over three innings. The veteran right-hander, who has said he will explore opportunities in Major League Baseball after this season, allowed two runs--one earned--on seven hits. He whiffed four and did not walk a batter.

After an off day today, the series shifts back to Tokyo Dome for Game 6 on Saturday and, if necessary, Game 7 on Sunday.


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