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Jim Allen

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Lions come back, claim Series crown

by Jim Allen (Nov 11, 2008)

This comeback went to the Lions.

Unable to afford a loss and playing on enemy turf, the Saitama Seibu Lions beat the Yomiuri Giants twice in a row at Tokyo Dome over the weekend to claim the 2008 Japan Series crown on Sunday.

The Lions' last Series title came in 2004, when they also clinched by winning the final two games in their opponents' park. The franchise has now won pro ball's biggest prize 13 times.

The Giants, who trailed in the CL race by 13 games as late as July 9, made an epic comeback to win the league title, but this time the Lions were the comeback champions.

Yasuyuki Kataoka manufactured an eighth-inning run to tie Game 7 off Giants reliever Daisuke Ochi. Two, two-out walks then set the table for Hiroshi Hirao, who singled in the go-ahead run.

"Although we gave away the advantage, I could sense from the players that they were not going to be defeated," said Seibu skipper Hisanobu Watanabe.

"Throughout the season, we got stronger with each game we won, but in the Climax Series and in the Japan Series, the players achieved beyond my expectations."

After a qualitative advantage in relief pitching helped the Giants take a 3-2 Series lead on Thursday at Seibu Dome, Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe simply gave up on his regular relievers. Takayuki Kishi, the game 4 starter, came out of the bullpen to win Game 6 and even the Series with the help of Hirao's four RBIs.

Kishi, who marked his Series debut with a 147-pitch shutout, threw 91 pitches on Saturday. The Series MVP set a record for the most innings without allowing a run, 14-2/3.

With the Lions trailing the Series finale 2-0 after two innings thanks to a nearly disastrous start by veteran Fumiya Nishiguchi, Game 3 starter Kazuhisa Ishii pitched two perfect innings of relief.

Hiram Bocachica, who hit for Ishii in the top of the fifth, homered to halve Giants southpaw Tetsuya Utsumi's lead.

Hideaki Wakui, who started Games 1 and 5, struck out four of the six batters he faced. After the Giants came from behind in Game 5, Giants slugger Alex Ramirez expressed relief he would not have to face Wakui again. But the CL MVP candidate struck out to end the sixth.

"Well, I had to face him again, and he got me," Ramirez said after Game 7.

Utsumi left after 5-1/3 innings with the Lions' two biggest right-handed hitters coming up. Righty Kentaro Nishimura dispatched Hiroyuki Nakajima and Takeya Nakamura to end the inning.

Ochi, who'd been rock solid in his first four outings of the Series, stranded two in the seventh, but hit Kataoka to lead off the eighth.

The Pacific League's stolen base champ swiped his second base of the game, went to third on Takumi Kuriyama's sacrifice bunt and scored on a groundout by Nakajima.

Ochi walked Nakamura and third-string catcher Kosuke Noda and fell behind 3-0 to Hirao, who smacked a 3-2 slider up the middle to raise his career Series batting average to .410.

Graman, who appeared steamed the night before after being passed over in Game 6 so Kishi could finish, finally got the call in the eighth to protect the Lions' lead. The lefty, who saved 31 games this season, worked two perfect innings for his second Series save.

Hirao and Nakajima, who was a force throughout the Series despite injuring his ribs in Game 5, won Outstanding Performance awards, as did Ramirez and Giants leadoff man Takahiro Suzuki.

Although Watanabe's players refused to give up, it looked as if the Lions manager threw in the towel by starting Nishiguchi.

The 36-year-old right-hander, who was 0-5 in six previous Series games, had a 5.03 ERA this year and had not pitched since Oct. 4.

Although he only allowed two runs, Nishiguchi lucked out in the first inning. After a bases-loaded wild pitch plated the first run, Yoshiyuki Kamei hit the ball hard on the ground with the infield in. The Lions caught a break when the ball went on a line to second baseman Kataoka.

Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto accounted for Yomiuri's other run with a leadoff homer in the second. Unfortunately for Yomiuri, Sakamoto would be the Giants' final base runner of the season.

"It's awfully hard to win when you don't have a base runner after the second inning," said Giants manager Tatsunori Hara.


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