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Lions pride of Asia

by Jim Allen (Nov 17, 2008)

Tomoaki Sato gave the Asia Series grandest finale ever with a two-out sayonara double that lifted the Saitama Seibu Lions to a 1-0 victory over the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions on Sunday.

Seibu's victory over the tenacious Taiwan champs in the final kept the Asian title in Japan for the fifth straight season.

Yoshihito Ishii drew a two-out walk against Uni-President reliever Pan Wei-lun (0-2) and scored from first on Sato's liner that was cut off in the gap by center fielder Pan Wu-hsiung.

"Ishii ran really hard, and I'm grateful for that," said Sato, whose second double of the day prevented the Series' first-ever extra-inning game and won him the tournament's MVP award.

A good relay would have gotten Ishii at the plate, but having lost his two regular shortstops before the tournament, Uni-President skipper Lu Wen-sheng was giving first baseman-pitcher Chuan Chin-her on-the-job training at short.

Chuan made an awkward pivot and his throw was late and wide, allowing Ishii to score despite hesitating at third base.

"We knew before the tournament that the Uni-President outfield would give us some running room," said Seibu skipper Hisanobu Watanabe, who spent the final three years of his career pitching in Taiwan.

"At the end of the tournament, we played our best game and finally managed to score against a very tough Uni-President team. They fought all the way."

The Taiwan champs, who were making their second straight tournament appearance appeared ready to be bounced out on Saturday, but earned a spot in the final with a 10-4 thrashing of South Korea's SK Wyverns, the beaten 2007 finalists here.

"I didn't give any specific advice to the pitchers, other than to say, 'It's our last game, so give it your all,'" said Watanabe. "They have some big hitters you have to work carefully to, but our pitchers know who they are."

Right-handed reliever Shinya Okamoto got the win after pitching a perfect ninth. Koji Onuma allowed two Uni-President runners on in the eighth but also struck out three. The right-hander struck out 11 of the 18 batters he faced over three games.

The Lions got 6-2/3 innings out of ace Hideaki Wakui. But with a runner on first in the seventh and 113 pitches on Wakui's odometer, Watanabe called Tomoki Hoshino to face troublesome Uni-President leadoff man Pan Wi-hsiung. The lefty side-armer struck out Pan on four pitches, retiring him for the first time in the game.

"Our pitchers did such a great job, so we wanted to get them a run as soon as possible," said the 30-year-old Sato, whose playing time had increased at the end of the season due to the team's injuries.

"All season long, our young players carried us, but at the end when the going got tough, it was time for us veterans to step up," Sato said with a smile.

Giancarlo Alvarado stopped Seibu for six innings, and Tseng Yi-cheng pitched a scoreless seventh--although he did allow a two-out double to Sato.

Pan Wei-lun, who allowed two runs in six innings against Seibu on Friday, retired five straight before walking Ishii in the ninth and bringing Sato to the plate. The Seibu outfielder had gone 0-for-2 against Pan in their first encounter.

"Their pitchers are quite good. He [Pan] got me the other night, but this time I was able to have a good at-bat, put all my strength out there," said Sato.


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