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A Fighting chance / Nippon Ham gets to Giants' Takahashi early, evens series 2-2

by John E. Gibson (Nov 5, 2009)

In a knock-down, drag-out struggle, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters pounded the body for a technical knockout.

Eiichi Koyano had three hits, including a two-run double, and four RBIs, and cleanup man Shinji Takahashi went 3-for-5 with a home run, three RBIs and three runs scored as Nippon Ham outlasted the Yomiuri Giants 8-4 in Japan Series Game 4 on Wednesday before 45,133 at Tokyo Dome.

The Fighters built a seven-run lead after the top of the eighth inning before holding off the hard-charging Giants and guaranteeing the Series will return to Sapporo Dome for Game 6 on Saturday by evening the best-of-seven matchup.

"We are really thrilled with the fact that we can take the Series back home to Sapporo," Koyano said. "We want to go out and win tomorrow and get back home."

Said Fighters skipper Masataka Nashida, who watched as three hits, a walk and an error helped the Giants get three runs in the eighth: "It was nerve-racking right down to the end.

"It was a good game, a thrilling game. We found a way. You never know what's going to happen in baseball. We had a seven-run lead."

The Giants had 13 hits, but grounded into three double plays and ran themselves out of the game in the ninth inning as Michihiro Ogasawara singled high off the wall in right before getting gunned down at second base for the final out.

"We had some mistakes, but we didn't do enough with our chances to overcome them," said Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara.

Yomiuri rallied in the eighth inning and came one batter away from putting the tying run on deck in the ninth.

Alex Ramirez checked in with his first homer of the Series, a three-run shot in the eighth, and Yomiuri put two more men on base in the eighth, but former Giant Masanori Hayashi got ex-batterymate Shinnosuke Abe on a hard liner to right and fanned Takuya Kimura to end the threat.

Pinch-hitter Shigeyuki Furuki singled to open the ninth before Ogasawara's blunder.

Fighters starter Tomoya Yagi walked the tightrope all night, but came away with his second career Series victory. He put the leadoff batter on in every inning, but limited Yomiuri to just one run on seven hits and two walks with no strikeouts.

The heart of the Yomiuri order was 1-for-7 against him, No. 3 man Ogasawara leaving five runners on base.

"I gave up some hits, but I was able to battle through it," said Yagi. "They have some left-handed hitters with power but I was able to get inside on them and jam them with some pitches that found good spots."

The Giants had avoided hitting into a double play in the Series, but grounded into two against Yagi and one against reliever Naoki Miyanishi in the seventh inning.

The first two Giants reached in the opening frame before Yagi retired the heart of the lineup in order to escape that jam. The Giants went hitless in their first six chances with runners in scoring position.

Yomiuri starter Hisanori Takahashi couldn't have planned a more perfect opening inning, striking out the side.

But his outing went downhill quickly. He gave up a walk and hit with one out in the second inning before wiggling out of that pinch, and the Fighters touched him up for four in the third.

With one out, Kensuke Tanaka singled to center and Hichori Morimoto hit a ball to second that Kimura had a chance to fire to Takahashi covering but instead looked to get the lead runner. Morimoto ended up with an infield single, and after Atsunori Inaba walked, Takahashi stroked the first pitch he saw into left for a two-run single.

"Everyone did a great job of creating that scoring chance, and I was determined when I went to the plate," Takahashi said.

Koyano's liner split the gap in right center, and Inaba and Takahashi came around to score to make it 4-0 Fighters.

"I just willed that hit," Koyano said. "I want to keep doing my part and get on for the next guy."

The Giants, though, came back with a run in the bottom of the inning, finally coming through with a runner in scoring position.

Hayato Sakamoto doubled and Tetsuya Matsumoto plated him with a single to right to cut Nippon Ham's lead to 4-1. But Nippon Ham tacked on another run, thanks again to Takahashi.

He slugged his first homer of the Series, jumping all over a hanging curve and spanking just over the wall in left for a solo blast and a 5-1 advantage.


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