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John E. Gibson

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Lions battle back

by John E. Gibson (Aug 6, 2009)

For six innings the Lions didn't hit anything. In the seventh inning, they hit the jackpot.

Saitama Seibu busted up Hideki Sunaga's no-hit bid and wiped out his chance for his first pro win with a five-run inning that powered them to a 5-2 comeback win over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters at Seibu Dome on Wednesday night.

Taketoshi Goto plated the go-ahead run with a single in an inning in which the Lions sent 10 men to the plate, and Tetsuya Iwasaki worked a scoreless eighth while Chikara Onodera set down the side in the ninth for his 16th save as Seibu topped the Pacific League front-running Fighters in front of 18,510.

The rally came after Seibu skipper Hisanobu Watanabe gave his troops a pep talk in front of the bench between innings.

"It wasn't just that we didn't have a hit, it was that we hadn't come close to getting one," Watanabe said.

"About the sixth inning, I saw that we were starting to get rattled. I felt like we were swinging at pitches we should have been taking. There was no reason to panic--we still had three innings and that's what I told them."

The advice worked as the Lions got to the sixth-year southpaw and chased him from the game after his 83rd pitch.

"I wasn't thinking about a no-hitter," said Sunaga, who was making his first start in three years and came in with an ERA of 9.00 in seven appearances this season.

"I got an opportunity to start and if I didn't do well, I wouldn't get another chance," said Sunaga, who took the no-decision in stride.

"What can you do? I'll just go out and work hard next time."

In his last three starts, dating back to 2005 have yielded three runs in 21 innings but no decisions.

Sunaga didn't have to work too hard through six. He walked two and fanned five before Hiroyuki Nakajima's perfectly placed roller deep in the hole at short to open the seventh. Takeya Nakamura followed with a double and that got the hurler yanked.

Kazumasa Kikuchi (2-2) entered and fanned the first man he faced, but the next four batters reached--with four runs scoring in the process--and Kikuchi got the hook.

Shintaro Ejiri came on and hit a batter before allowing a sacrifice fly for the fifth run. He got Nakajima to groundout to end the inning.

Seibu starter Kazuhisa Ishii (5-7), who looked primed for the role as hard-luck loser, went seven innings and ended up with his first win since July 4.

The veteran lefty allowed just four hits, but walked six while fanning six.

"Ishii walked too many guys, but he did a good job of stopping them from scoring. He did what he was supposed to do as the starter and I'm glad he got the victory."

The Fighters struck first, getting to Ishii for a pair of runs in the fourth inning.


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