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Rob Smaal

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Fujii's late Dragon dinger sends BayStars reeling

by Rob Smaal (May 5, 2009)

Atsushi Fujii socked a tiebreaking solo home run in a three-run 11th inning Monday afternoon at Yokohama Stadium as the Chunichi Dragons bettered the bottom-feeding BayStars 4-2 in Central League action.

Yudai Kawai went nine strong innings for Hiromitsu Ochiai's club, allowing just one run on two hits. Reliever Shinsuke Saito (1-0) worked a 1-2-3 10th inning for the Dragons to pick up the win but Akifumi Takahashi was unable to get through the 11th, giving up a leadoff solo homer to Dan Johnson and loading the bases on two hits and a walk before Masafumi Hirai came on to get the final out, which came courtesy of a potential game-saving catch by right fielder Kei Nomoto.

Left-hander Kawai retired the side in order over the first three frames before giving up a two-out double to Seiichi Uchikawa in the fourth. Shuichi Murata then lined an RBI single to left to give the BayStars a 1-0 lead.

The Dragons pulled even in the seventh when shortstop Hirokazu Ibata homered to left off Yokohama starter Futoshi Kobayashi to lead off the inning.

Kobayashi also pitched well but he, too, did not figure in the decision. The young right-hander allowed just the one run on five hits through eight innings.

With the score deadlocked at 1-1 entering the 11th, Fujii greeted BayStars reliever Yuya Ishii by hammering an opposite-field solo home run to right.

"I was stoked to see the ball clear the fence for a home run," said Fujii, whose home run was his sixth this year. "I went into the batter's box just thinking single, just trying to get on base, so I was really happy to see it leave the yard."

The Dragons weren't done just yet, however. Keiji Oyama reached base on a throwing error by Yokohama shortstop Takehiro Ishikawa and later scored on an RBI single to left by Masahiko Morino to make it 3-1, before Tony Blanco followed up with a run-scoring single of his own off Hiroki Sanada later in the inning.

Yokohama's Johnson led off the bottom of the 11th off Takahashi with a towering home run to right. Johnson stood in the batter's box watching the flight of the ball, appearing to think it would drift foul. It didn't and the Coon Rapids, Minnesota, native had his second home run of the season.

With two out, and Tatsuhiko Kinjo and Ishikawa on base after back-to-back singles, Takahashi walked pinch-hitter Toshio Saito to load the bases. That was enough for Ochiai, who waved in Hirai to finish the job. He picked up his first save of the season when Nomoto made a superb diving catch on a sinking liner to right off the bat of Uchikawa.

Ishii (0-3) ended up taking the loss.

The Dragons took two out three in Yokohama to improve to 12-14 on the season while the last-place BayStars sunk to 9-16.


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