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Lion tamers / Inada's pinch-hit, 2-run single in 9th takes Fighers past Japan Series champions

by Jim Allen (Aug 7, 2009)

Naoto Inada has stuck with it and it paid off for him and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Thursday.

Inada improved to 6-for-13 as a pinch-hitter this season with a two-run, ninth-inning single that put the Fighters ahead in a 7-4 win over the Saitama Seibu Lions before 19,360 at Seibu Dome.

"My family has been supporting me all the time, the fans have always been on my side and I've had little to show them," said the 29-year-old, who was playing in his 34th game.

With the two outs and the bases loaded in a 4-4 game, Inada pulled a 2- 1 slider from Tetsuya Iwasaki to right field that put the league leaders up by two.

"He [Iwasaki] got me yesterday, but I saw all his pitches, and I thought I sooner or later I'd get one I could handle," Inada said.

"If we win, I'm happy even if I'm not in the game, but after getting to the Climax Series and doing little [he didn't bat], I went into autumn camp with a mission. I remember that bitterness every time I have a chance. It's my motivation."

With runners on the corners, Makoto Kaneko iced the cake with an RBI single to complete the scoring.

Atsunori Inaba twice put the Fighters in front. His RBI single opened the scoring in the third, and his two-run homer broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh.

Both starting pitchers, the Fighters' Kazuhito Tadano and the Lions' John Wasdin, each allowed two runs in six innings. Tadano didn't allow a hit through five, while Wasdin excelled with men on: He allowed eight hits and hit two batters.

Once the Lions got in the hit column, a walk and a two-run double by Hiroyuki Nakajima tied the game with one out in the sixth.

The Lions bullpen, however, was not as good working out of trouble as Wasdin had been.

Koji Mitsui surrendered two runs in a hurry in the seventh after the Lions had tied it, and Iwasaki killed the defending Japan Series champs in the ninth after entering with one out and none on.

After a ground single by Shinji Takahashi and a sacrifice, Iwasaki hit Eiichi Koyano, who had some words for the right-hander that drew a crowd to the field as the Fighters worked to keep their third baseman in the game.

"In a pennant race, those things are going to happen, but you can't get tossed," Fighters skipper Masataka Nashida said. "You've got to keep your wits about you."

A wild pitch put two in scoring position, and the Lions opted to put Yoshio Itoi on intentionally.

Inada, who has not started a game this season, came off the bench and singled home two. Itoi then scored on Kaneko's single off Iwasaki.

"For someone in that role, the work starts when runners get on," Watanabe said of Iwasaki.

"I feel he lost his command after he hit the batter. You have to get over that. If you're a reliever, what happened before can't be an issue.

"The top of our lineup, did their jobs but the tail end fumbled and didn't provide the top two guys with scoring opportunities."

A night after they were held hitless for the first six innings, the Lions again looked feeble against the Fighters starting pitching.

The Lions had a close call in the third, when a pop off the bat of Takayuki Shimizu nearly fell between three on rushing Fighters.

Left fielder Terrmel Sledge rescued the situation, however, with a lunging catch between two teammates and hung on to the prize.


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