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Japan hurlers take more lumps in loss to Lions

by Jim Allen (Mar 1, 2009)

Japan manager Tatsunori Hara had one thing to be happy about on Saturday--that his team's first loss didn't count.

The national team disappointed a large crowd at Tokyo Dome on Saturday night in a 7-2 pasting at the hands of the Japan Series champion Saitama Seibu Lions.

"This game is about winning and losing, and there's nothing to be happy about a loss," Hara said. "It's a good thing it was an exhibition.

"We are progressing, although we have things to think over. We fell behind but fought hard till the end."

Yutaro Osaki put Japan in the hole with a two-run, third-inning homer off Hisashi Iwakuma.

"I was able to throw my breaking balls for strikes and had good arm motion. I pitched better than the last time out [in Osaka against Australia]," Iwakuma said. "As for the home run, I was slightly distracted by the runner. But overall, it was good practice."

Japan got a run back in the bottom of the fourth on doubles by Atsunori Inaba and Michihiro Ogasawara off Takayuki Kishi, who had been dropped from the Japan roster in Miyazaki. Kishi received a rousing welcome from the large number of unpatriotic Lions fans among the crowd of 41,586.

Ogasawara tried to go to third on the throw home but became the second Japan runner to be cut down on the bases.

Inaba was the bright spot for Japan, going 3-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.

"I'm just going to bat the way I bat," said Inaba of batting in the cleanup spot. "When I'm the leadoff hitter, I'm trying to get on. When there are runners on base, I try to bring them home. I'm just inventing my own style [of batting fourth]."

The Lions increased their lead with a run in the fifth inning off Yu Darvish. A single by Yoshihito Ishii and a Ginjiro Sumitani double set Seibu up for a score. Although right fielder Ichiro Suzuki's throw held the runner at third, No. 9 hitter Takuya Hara squeezed home a run.

The Lions teed off on Satoshi Komatsu, loading the bases before back-to-back RBI singles by Takayuki Shimizu and Takeya Nakamura made it 5-1. Taketoshi Goto added a two-run double past a diving Kosuke Fukucome in center field.

Suzuki was easily the biggest attraction of the evening with camera flashes glittering in every at-bat. The Seattle Mariners star, however, did little at the plate and was gunned down by catcher Sumitani after reaching on a fielder's choice.

John Wasdin started for the Lions, appearing at Tokyo Dome for the first time since 2002, when he pitched 10 games for the Yomiuri Giants.

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Ichiro hails Asian success

The continued success of the Asian teams on the international level is a plus for the game, Suzuki said before the game.

"Japan won the first WBC and South Korea won the gold [in the Beijing Olympics]," he said. "For the good of global baseball, Asia's national teams need to continue this progress.

"That we could win the last two big international tournaments shows the importance of Asia, the importance of this Tokyo Round. I want to win here among the Asian teams and then go the U.S. and win the championship."

Manager Tatsunori Hara presented a similar vision.

"If we play hard and apply ourselves in earnest to our tasks, I don't think we have to fear any opponents."

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China struggles with Giants

China's Lu Jiangang pitched well again at Tokyo Dome, but poor defense and weak hitting condemned China to a 9-2 defeat at the hands of the Yomiuri Giants in a WBC warmup game.

The former Chunichi Dragons farmhand, who has pitched well here in the past two Asia Series, allowed a run in three innings on Saturday and may be called on to face Japan in Thursday's WBC opener.

"He may have been holding back some for that possibility, so it's hard to evaluate him," acting Giants manager Haruki Ihara said.

"Still, I think there are a lot of Japanese minor leaguers better than him."

Third-year outfielder Daijiro Tanaka doubled and homered for the Giants.


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