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John E. Gibson

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Hard-hitting Fighters KO Lions

by John E. Gibson (Apr 18, 2009)

This year's Fighters pack a pretty good punch.

They showed it by knocking off the reigning Japan Series champion Saitama Seibu Lions 4-2 on Friday night before 15,181 at Seibu Dome.

In a showdown between World Baseball Classic contributors, Nippon Ham ace Yu Darvish (2-1) dominated enough to beat Seibu's top starter Hideaki Wakui (2-1). But it was lesser-known players including Shinji Takahashi, who homered and drove in three runs, and Eiichi Koyano, who went 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored, making the biggest impact.

"Our lineup is really hitting the ball well right now," Darvish said about the Fighters, who came in leading the Pacific League in runs and team batting average after finishing last in Japan in runs scored a year ago.

"We're getting hits even when we have two strikes and we're scoring runs. It's really nice," said Darvish, who made 129 pitches.

Even suddenly hot-hitting Makoto Kaneko, a career .256 hitter, continued his torrid streak, hitting safely in his 12th straight game to start the season. He went 3-for-4 from the No. 9 hole to raise his average to .548.

The Fighters had double digits in hits (11) for the sixth straight game, but Darvish didn't need a lot of support on the scoreboard. He held the Lions to three hits and two walks, while fanning eight over eight innings.

"We only had three hits and that's not going to amount to much," said Seibu manager Hisanobu Watanabe.

"We have to string some hits together. Wakui wasn't all that bad, we just didn't score enough runs."

Hisashi Takeda, Nippon Ham's new closer, shut down Seibu with a one-two-three ninth for his second save.

Wakui departed after seven innings, having fired 128 pitches and yielding four runs on nine hits. He fanned seven and walked none.

Takahashi took Wakui deep with a man aboard in the second to give Nippon Ham a 2-0 lead.

"I got the pitch I was looking for and happened to make good contact," Takahashi said. "I was lucky to get that pitch."

Nippon Ham's Mr. Clutch, Atsunori Inaba, got the next run across in the third inning, finishing off an 11-pitch at-bat with an RBI single to center that made it 3-0 Fighters.

Hiram Bocachica got Seibu's first hit of the game in the bottom of the frame, a solo blast that cut Nippon Ham's lead to two runs.

The Fighters, though, tacked on a run in the fourth when Koyano doubled to left center and Takahashi chased him home with a single center.

Darvish kept the Lions caged until the sixth inning, when a pair of walks put two on with two out for former Yomiuri Giant Takayuki Suzuki.

The 14-year veteran lined an RBI single back through the box to cut the lead to 4-2, but G.G. Sato struck out to end the inning.


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