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John E. Gibson

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Fight club: Nippon Ham comes back with 4-run 5th to take Tokyo Dome series against Orix

by John E. Gibson (Aug 14, 2009)

On towel night at Tokyo Dome, the Hokkaido Nippon Fighters looked like they'd be throwing their towel in early.

But the Pacific League leaders fought back from a three-run deficit with a four-run fifth inning to grab the lead, and eventually buried the Orix Buffaloes 8-4 on Thursday before 33,823.

Toshimasa Konta and Kensuke Tanaka each had three hits and Yoshio Itoi put the Fighters in front with a two-run double in the fifth as Nippon Ham took the rubber game of a three-game home set here.

Eiichi Koyano had a pair of two-run doubles to lead a 13-hit attack as Nippon Ham won its eighth straight series.

"Yeah, well it feels like we lost tonight," said Nippon Ham skipper Masataka Nashida, pointing out the hole the Fighters had to dig out of early.

"We did a good job of putting hits together and rallying. The mood wasn't good at the start, though."

Brian Sweeney (3-5) picked up his first win since June 11, but was the beneficiary of the offensive outburst. The righty went 5-1/3 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits and five walks with no strikeouts, but struggled.

"Most of his pitches were good, but he just didn't put enough of them together," Nashida said of Sweeney, who won 12 games last season.

"That's what the problem has been for him, but he was the winning pitcher. He did well to get as far as he did."

Yoshihisa Hirano (2-8) had a 4-0 lead after 3-1/2 innings, but ended up with the loss, allowing five runs in five innings with a walk and five strikeouts on 110 pitches.

The Buffaloes frustrated Fighters starter Sweeney from the first inning, hitting good pitches and mistakes. Tuffy Rhodes opened the assault, going out of the strike zone to chase down a high curve and sending it over the fence in left for his third homer in as many games, a two-run shot and a 2-0 lead.

In the third inning, Fumihiro Suzuki led off with a double to right and back-to-back base hits by Naoyuki Omura and Keiji Obiki got him home before Rhodes' double-play allowed Omura to bring in Orix's fourth run.

Makoto Kaneko got the Fighters on the board by slugging his 10th homer of the season, a solo shot in the bottom of the third. Kaneko, having a career year at the plate with a .318 average, reached double figures for the first time since 1997 and the second time in his 15-plus years.

Shota Ono opened the fifth with a single and one out later, Tanaka and Konta each had hits to load the bases. Koyano muscled an inside pitch the opposite way to the gap in right center to plate two before Itoi's two-out bases-loaded double over the head of left fielder Omura brought home the tying and go-ahead runs.

"We needed to score another run in that situation and I just counted to three and swung," Konta said. "The ball really carried for me."


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