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Giants blow another lead, tie in finale

by Jim Allen (Apr 6, 2009)

The season may have started too early for the Yomiuri Giants, who failed three times to beat the hustling Hiroshima Carp at Tokyo Dome this weekend.

Sunday's series finale saw the reigning league champs blow a late lead for the second straight night in a game that ended 1-1 after 12 innings.

"Some players are not yet in form," Hara said in reference to closer Marc Kroon, whose two ninth-inning walks set up Hiroshima's lone score.

"We have a lot of room for improvement."

Carp skipper Marty Brown, whose club hasn't finished among the Central League's top three since 2001, was proud of how his guys battled back in all three games.

"We outplayed them three times and I feel good about that," said Brown, who went to his bench for extra speed and used it for effect in the ninth with a crucial double steal.

Eishin Soyogi, who came off the bench as a pinch-runner after starting the first two games, then singled off Tetsuya Yamaguchi with two outs to tie it.

The game started and finished as a tense pitcher's duel. Giants righty Shun Tono threw seven-plus scoreless innings and was poised to pick up his third win in three career starts after right-hander Daisuke Ochi pitched out of a jam in the eighth.

The 22-year-old Tono allowed five hits and struck out five without walking a batter.

"Tono was really sharp, locating everything he had," Brown said. "We struggled until Soyogi got that grounder."

Carp lefty Junpei Shinoda, 23, was nearly as tough, allowing a run on five hits in seven innings. The Giants' run came on Lee Seung Yeop's sixth-inning sacrifice fly. Although the ball was hit fairly deep to left, former pitcher Shigenobu Shima threw a strike to the infield, and the relay would have had the runner--if it hadn't been too high to handle.

"He did a great job," Brown said of Shinoda. "It's a shame we couldn't throw that runner out at the plate. He walked the man and it ended up biting him in the [backside].

"But he pitched great."

Other than Kroon's poor season debut, both clubs' relievers got the job done, although Hara was frustrated at his club's inability to put the scrappy Carp away.

Hiroshima's Mike Schultz made the highlight reel by striking out the side against the Giants' fifth, sixth and seventh hitters in the bottom of the ninth.

"Our starting lineup has to step it up," Hara said. "We have work to do and we're going to start tomorrow."

In the bottom of the 12th, pinch-hitter Yoshitomo Tani brought the crowd to its feet, but left fielder Jun Hirose hauled it in on the warning track before Hirofumi Ueno recorded the game's final out.

The Carp had a big chance to score in the top of the eighth after back-to-back singles sent Tono packing, but a failed bunt led to them leaving the bases loaded against Ochi.

Brown brought in two pinch-runners in eighth and another in the ninth, facilitating the double steal that surprised Yamaguchi on a 1-2 pitch.

Brown said his club's daring on the base paths was a direct result of the work under player-coach Koichi Ogata.

"We did a lot of work last fall," Brown said. "And they are very confident."

The aggression that got the Carp their run also cost them one more chance in the ninth.

Pinch-runner Naoki Nakahigashi, the trailing runner, tried to score on Soyogi's single to left, but should have stuck to third. Waved home by the third base coach, Nakahigashi was out by a mile on a throw from left fielder Tetsuya Matsumoto to end the ninth.


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