Shoitsu Omatsu drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday as the Lotte Marines edged the Seibu Lions 6-5, taking two out of three from the defending Japan Series champions at Chiba Marine Stadium to open the season.
Omatsu, who hit a two-run home run earlier in the game, came up with one out and the bases loaded in the ninth, lining a sacrifice fly to right field off Seibu closer Alex Graman to score pinch-runner Keisuke Hayasaka from third. The Marines players came pouring out of the dugout to mob Omatsu.
"Of course, we'd like to win all our series' this year but it feels good to have a two-game winning streak going," said Marines manager Bobby Valentine, who is in his final year piloting the club.
The game was a seesaw battle from the get-go. Lions starter John Wasdin spotted Lotte a 4-0 lead in the first inning, courtesy of a two-run double off the wall in dead-center by catcher Tomoya Satozaki and a two-run homer to right by Omatsu, proving that the North Koreans were not the only ones to launch a rocket on this day.
Seibu got right back in it a couple of innings later, however, when they put up a four-spot of their own. Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima clubbed a two-run double to the gap in right-center off Lotte starter Shingo Ono and the next batter, cleanup-hitter Takeya Nakamura, followed by cashing in Nakajima with a two-run bomb to center to tie the game 4-4. It was the first home run of the season for Nakamura, who led the Pacific League last year with 46.
The Marines would take the lead on a sacrifice fly by Toshiaki Imae in the third, but Seibu would match that in the fifth when G.G. Sato stroked an RBI double off reliever Taiki Nakago to score Nakajima from first base.
The score would remain 5-5 until the ninth, with both teams failing to capitalize on scoring chances down the stretch.
In the bottom of the fourth, Satozaki singled through the left side of the infield and Kazuya Fukuura came motoring around third, trying to score from second on the play. Lions left fielder Takumi Kuriyama had other ideas, however, as he came up throwing and gunned down Fukuura in a close play at the plate.
The stage was set for the dramatic finish in the ninth. Fukuura led off with a bloop single to left off Graman and pinch-runner Hayasaka stole second before advancing to third on a wild pitch. With a runner at third and none out, Seibu skipper Hisanobu Watanabe elected to intentionally walk the next two batters to load the bases. Satozaki then lined out to second before Omatsu came through with his game-winning fly ball to right.
Reliever Brian Sikorski (1-0) got the win after entering the game with two out and two men on in the top of the ninth to face slugger Nakamura, who he got to pop out to left field.
Starter Ono went four innings for the Marines, giving up four runs on five hits and four walks. Right-hander Yoshihiro Ito, appearing in his third straight game for the club, was credited with a hold after putting in 1 2/3 scoreless innings.
Wasdin, a former Yomiuri Giant, allowed five runs on six hits through three frames. He walked three and whiffed three.
"I just couldn't find the strike zone today," said the right-hander from Memphis.
Graman (0-1), who had 31 saves last season, took the loss.
Tadahito Iguchi, back in Japan after four seasons in the major leagues, played second and hit clean-up for Valentine's team. The former World Series winner with the Chicago White Sox went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and a walk. He came up with two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the second and grounded out to third.
Seibu's Nakajima, the starting shortstop on Japan's WBC-winning team, is off to another fine start. He had four hits Sunday, including a pair of doubles, and two RBIs.
There was a bizarre play in the second inning. With Imae on first base and Marines leadoff-hitter Daisuke Hayakawa in the batter's box, Imae took off for second as Wasdin delivered a pitch. Anticipating the move, the Lions had called for a pitchout. As Seibu catcher Toru Hosokawa moved out from behind the plate to catch the ball, Hayakawa, trying to protect the runner, threw his bat towards the pitch, hitting Hosokawa in the hand and midsection. As Hosokawa shook off the injury, the umpires huddled and declared Hayakawa out for interference.
This brought Marines skipper Bobby Valentine charging out of the dugout, where he proceeded to act out the roles of both hitter and catcher, arguing that Hosokawa was the one at fault.
"He (Hosokawa) interfered with the bat trying to hit the ball," Valentine explained after the game. "It's simple--you have to give the hitter a chance to hit the ball and (the catcher) didn't give him a chance to do that."
The argument, while providing a little comic relief as Valentine flexed his thespian muscles, was all for naught as the umps stuck to their original ruling, calling Hayakawa out and sending Imae back to first.
The teams split the first two games of the series. After an off day today, Lotte takes on the Nippon-Ham Fighters on Tuesday and Wednesday at Tokyo Dome while Seibu hosts Orix in a three-game set at Seibu Dome beginning Tuesday.