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John E. Gibson

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Nakajima puts all ribbing aside to help Lions

by John E. Gibson (Nov 9, 2008)

Saitama Seibu Lions No. 3 man Hiroyuki Nakajima picked his team up on Saturday when it seemed the only direction it could go was down in the Japan Series.

Yomiuri pitchers contributed to their own demise in a 4-1 Game 6 loss at Tokyo Dome, walking five in the first four innings.

But they didn't handle Nakajima early in the game and it cost them. The Pacific League MVP candidate had a sore left ribcage that forced him off the field in Game 5 on Thursday and wasn't sure if he'd even play. In Game 6, though, he and the rest of the Lions fought to the last tooth by putting a new twist on the phrase "walking wounded."

"It's a huge game, so it's no time to be talking about this hurting or that hurting," said Nakajima, who insisted that he was not in pain during the game.

"I'm getting the opportunity to play, so I want to contribute," said Nakajima, who tied a record by scoring in all six games.

Reserve Hiroshi Hirao, whose three-run first-inning double was the game's biggest hit, said with Nakajima ailing and catcher Toru Hosokawa out of the lineup--he exited Game 5 early because of a bum right shoulder and apprently couldn't go on Saturday--the Lions brought some extra fight.

"If we were to lose like this [with Nakajima hurting], it would leave us all with a bad taste in our mouths," said Hirao, who was part of a lineup shuffle to fill the hole left by Hosokawa.

Nakajima skipped batting practice, instead taking some toss batting on the side. The slugging shortstop looked fine in fielding practice and had no trouble at his position in the game.

But Nakajima seemed to give the Giants some trouble. He reached base in the opening frame without lifting the bat off his shoulders, taking five pitches from Yomiuri starter Hisanori Takahashi for a walk and eventually coming home on Hirao's two-out, two-bagger.

He appeared unable to swing the bat, so in his next trip to the plate, the Giants tested him by firing one right down the pipe. Nakajima smoked it into left field on his first swing of the night for a solid single to put two on with one out. The Lions, though, failed to capitalize on the opportunity.

"I just shrunk my strike zone and I only planned to go after pitches I could hit," Nakajima said. "I just want to have a chance to contribute and for us to win."

Nakajima drew a fourth-inning walk from Shun Tono--one of free passes for the right-hander in the inning--and the Lions loaded the bases with two down. They again failed to score as the Giants stayed close.

The only time Nakajima appeared to be in some discomfort was when he rapped into a double play in the sixth inning. In the ninth he took a weak hack at a pitch high and away before looking at strike three. But his Series average is .350 and the Lions are still alive.


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