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Jim Allen

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Eagles on verge of landing 1st PL playoff spot

by Jim Allen (Sep 28, 2009)

Darrell Rasner had one of his best games in Japan and 15-game winner Hideaki Wakui his worst of the year as the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles moved four games clear of the Saitama Seibu Lions in the race for the Pacific League's final playoff spot on Sunday.

With the victory, the fifth-year Eagles took two of three in the series and reduced their magic number to reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history to six.

Rasner didn't allow a hit or a run until the fifth as third-place Rakuten whipped the reigning Japan Series champion Lions 11-4 before 33,901, Seibu Dome's third largest of the season.

"I just try to change speeds and make my fastball look faster," said Rasner (4-5), who didn't allow a hit or a run until the bottom of the fifth, when he had a seven-run lead to work with. "That offense makes things a lot easier."

The right-hander worked seven innings, allowing four runs on eight hits. He struck out six and walked one.

Rasner first went to the mound with a one-run lead but walked the first batter. He went 3-0 on the next batter before a 3-1 fastball that produced a routine fly.

Lions' leadoff man Yasuyuki Kataoka stole second and third, raising his Japan-best steal total to 48. With two outs and Kataoka at third, cleanup hitter Takeya Nakamura topped one to Rasner's right. He made an awkward throw to first base, but Fernando Seguignol hung on to the tough chance for the third out.

The Eagles--who are a season-high 10 games over .500--got off the mark with a run in the first and two more in the third, with all three men reaching on walks.

With two outs and two on in the first, Daisuke Kusano singled home Naoto Watanabe to open the scoring. Wakui issued back-to-back walks to open the third, with Watanabe again scoring on a Kusano single and Teppei Tsuchiya coming home on a shot to second by Seguignol that handcuffed Kataoka for an error.

Seguignol ended up 3-for-4 with two doubles, a single, a walk, two runs and two RBIs.

Wakui (15-5) stranded three in the first, left two more Eagles on base in the third, and two more in the fourth after Tsuchiya plated Jin Nakatani with a single for Rakuten's fourth run. He was pulled after 101 pitches in four innings, his shortest start of the season. The 23-year-old right-hander walked five, gave up five hits with a season-low two strikeouts. But while the Lions were finally able to score against Rasner, their chances of a win went rapidly downhill after Wakui left.

Righty Koji Onuma continued down the slippery slope in the fifth, allowing three runs and leaving after retiring just two.

Seguignol hustled to second and lumbered in safely with a leadoff double. Held at third on a single by Makoto Kosaka, the big Eagle scored on a fly to medium-deep center by Nakatani, drawing a throw that saw Kosaka scoot to second.

Makoto Nakamura singled in Kosaka and he, too, advanced on the ensuing throw. Watanabe capped the inning with an RBI double.

The Lions and Eagles go head-to-head for the final time in Sendai on Oct. 3 and 4.


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