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Rob Smaal

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Fighters even it up with small ball

by Rob Smaal (Nov 5, 2009)

Shinji Takahashi and Eiichi Koyano took care of the offense Wednesday at Tokyo Dome to back a solid outing on the mound by Tomoya Yagi as the Nippon-Ham Fighters evened the Japan Series at two games apiece.

Takahashi went 3-for-5 at the plate with a two-run single and a solo home run for the Fighters, who guaranteed that the series will head back up to Hokkaido with their 8-4 victory over the Yomiuri Giants.

Koyano also had three hits on the night, including a two-run double and a two-run single for the winners, who won it mostly playing small ball a night after six homers left the yard.

The teams split the first two games of the best-of-seven series at Sapporo Dome before the Giants won 7-4 on Tuesday at Tokyo Dome. Game 5 goes tonight in Tokyo before the series shifts back up to Sapporo for Game 6 and, if necessary, a deciding Game 7.

Yagi won a battle of lefties, outdueling the Giants Hisanori Takahashi. Yagi, a nine-game winner in 2009, limited the hard-hitting Giants to just a single run over five innings in their own barn. He gave up seven hits and two walks and did not strike out a batter.

Five relievers combined to hold the Giants to three runs--all on an Alex Ramirez home run--on six hits the rest of the way. The game ended when Michihiro Ogasawara was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double with two out and a man aboard in the bottom of the ninth.

In the top of the third inning, the Fighters loaded the bases off Giants starter Takahashi on a pair of one-out singles by Kensuke Tanaka and Hichori Morimoto and a walk to Atsunori Inaba. Shinji Takahashi then lined a two-run single to left to put the first runs on the board for Nippon-Ham.

Giants left-hander Takahashi was able to strike out American slugger Terrmel Sledge, but Koyano then clubbed a two-run double into the gap in right-center.

In the bottom half of the inning, Hayato Sakamoto led off with a double and moved to third base on a wild pitch by Nippon-Ham's Yagi. Tetsuya Matsumoto followed with an RBI single to right to make it 4-1.

In the Hammies' fifth, Shinji Takahashi was at it again, taking his namesake for a ride over the wall in left. The two-out solo shot off a Hisanori Takahashi curveball put the Fighters up 5-1 and gave Shinji Takahashi three RBIs on the night.

The Fighters tacked on another run in the seventh. Tanaka led off the inning with a standup triple down the right-field line off Giants reliever Norihito Kaneto. With Morimoto at the plate, Nippon-Ham skipper Masataka Nashida put on the squeeze play, but Morimoto fouled off the bunt attempt. On the next pitch, however, he got it right, laying down a bunt that died on the turf just in front of the plate as Tanaka raced home to score.

In the eighth, Koyano connected for a two-run single off Shota Kimura after Takahashi had singled and Sledge had doubled off the right-hander.

Giants cleanup-hitter Ramirez slammed a three-run homer off Takayuki Kanamori in the bottom of the eighth to make it respectable.

Matsumoto was the other offensive star for the Giants. The speedy No. 2 hitter had three of the Giants' hits on the night, all singles, and he also reached base on an error and a fielder's choice.

"The end was a little scary, but I'm glad we were able to hold on for the win," said Fighters skipper Nashida. "In baseball you never know. We had an 8-1 lead and had to hang on for the win at the end."

Hisanori Takahashi took the loss for Tatsunori Hara's team. Takahashi was charged with five runs over five innings. He allowed six hits, walked a pair and whiffed seven.

The Giants have won 20 Japan Series titles since 1950, the most in Japanese baseball, with their last championship coming in 2002. The Fighters won it all in 2006. Prior to that, the franchise's only other Japan Series title came in 1962 as the Toei Flyers.


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