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Inaba, Fighters rally to KO Lions

by Jim Allen (Apr 18, 2010)

Atsunori Inaba bailed out Yu Darvish on Saturday as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters overcame a four-run deficit to win for just the sixth time this season.

Inaba's fifth-inning grand slam put Nippon Ham in front for good in an 8-5 win over the Saitama Seibu Lions in front of 26,793 at Seibu Dome.

Trailing by three runs, Inaba tattooed a 1-0 fastball from Hsu Ming-chieh (1-2) to put the Fighters in front.

"That one pitch was my mistake," said Hsu, who allowed six runs on six hits in five innings.

Inaba, who has been struggling through injury this season, had returned to the starting lineup on Thursday after a week's absence. He singled in the third and drove a low-inside fastball into the stands.

"They got to us early, but we were able to turn things our way," said the four-time Golden Glove winner, who also made a diving catch in the eighth inning in his first start in right in a week.

"It has been a while since I've been out there [in right]. I got some work done," said Inaba, whose slam was just the third in 183 career longballs and his first since May 31, 2001.

Yuji Iyama, whose two-out single kept the fifth inning alive for Inaba, had three hits and singled in an insurance run in the ninth as the Fighters snapped a four-game losing streak.

Darvish (3-1) walked three in a five-run second but made some adjustments to his balance and timing to last seven innings.

He became the third pitcher to record 10 or more strikeouts in five consecutive games, punching out nemesis Takeya Nakamura with his 148th and final pitch.

"I was aware of the number when I got to nine," said Darvish who got most of his strikeouts on curves. "I wanted to strike out Nakamura, and just managed it.

"In the second inning, my balance and my timing were completely off. I felt something was strange in the bullpen [before the game]. I don't think I've ever felt like that before."

Darvish walked the second man he faced in the game, fell behind often and worked deep in the count.

The Lions punished him for it in the second, when he took the mound with a one-run lead, thanks to a Tomohiro Nioka double and an Eiichi Koyano sacrifice fly.

A one-out double by Hisashi Takayama and a single by Yoshihito Ishii tied it in the bottom of the second. Another single and back-to-back walks forced in the go-ahead run. Takuya Hara's sacrifice fly brought home G.G. Sato, and Nakamura, who has hit Darvish very well in the past (11-for-34 since 2006 with three homers), capped the rally with a two-run single.

Darvish appeared doomed to wind up on the losing end but worked things out and began bagging his limit of Lions.

Hsu had been making his pitches and the Lions looked in good shape in the top of the fifth, when second baseman Yasuyuki Kataoka went far to his right and made a long throw to rob Koyano of a leadoff single.

Yang Zhong-shou, however, reached on an infield single and Shinya Tsuruoka singled, sending Yang to third. Takayuki Takaguchi followed hit a smash to first baseman Yoshihito Ishii, who charged and tried to cut down the runner at the plate instead of going for two. His throw was wild and he was charged with an error, despite the fact that Yang had beat the throw home.

Hsu, running to cover first, had to dive to the turf to avoid Ishii's throw and a trainer was summoned but he carried on, allowing a single to Iiyama and falling behind to Inaba before delivering the fatal pitch.


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