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Penn took circuitous route to Japan Series stardom

by Jim Allen (Nov 6, 2010)

Hayden Penn's strange journey took a fortunate turn when it landed him in Chiba this summer.

"It's been a ride," said the Chiba Lotte right-hander after winning Game 5 of the Japan Series on Thursday night at Chiba Marine Stadium.

"From not knowing I'm going to make a big league team, then getting waived and then making a team, and then pitching poorly, then Triple-A, now here. I think it all turned around the way it was supposed to."

Penn allowed two runs in 5-1/3 innings in the Marines' 10-4 victory over the Chunichi Dragons. The Marines need just one win over the weekend at Nagoya Dome to wrap up their first Series championship since 2005.

Penn went to camp this spring with the Florida Marlins, but didn't make the team. He won a job with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but allowed eight runs on eight hits in two innings.

With the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis, where he was a teammate of former Giants and Buffaloes pitcher Jeremy Powell, Penn was 4-4 with 4.68 ERA in 12 starts.

The Marines signed Penn in July, and he won his Pacific League debut on Aug. 8 in Kobe, allowing a run in five innings. Penn started seven times, and four times worked six or more innings with three or fewer earned runs, but didn't get another win. He finished the regular season 1-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 46-1/3 innings.

Penn's best performance during that span came on Sept. 4, when he outlasted Yu Darvish, pitching 10 scoreless innings in a game the Marines lost 1-0 in 12 innings.

Penn pitched once in the Climax Series, starting Game 2 of the second stage in Fukuoka on Oct. 15 and taking the loss.

"I haven't pitched in a long while," Penn said. "SoftBank seems like it was a month ago. You just got to be ready when they call your number."

When they called his number on Thursday, his fastball was floating up in the zone at the start. But after giving up a run, Penn found his rhythm.

"We play really well at home, so [I wanted to] just keep us in the game," he said. "I give up one in the first, I thought, 'Relax, just try and put up zeros, keep the team in the game. We've got a real good offense, and tonight they showed it.

"There's always pressure. You always want to just go out there and compete for your teammates. These guys have been busting their butts all year. That's my job, come in and give us a chance to win."

Tomoya Satozaki, the Marines No. 1 catcher who missed much of the second half with back trouble, caught Penn in a game for the first time.

Instead of the typical groundball fest, Penn got more than twice as many outs in the air as he did on the ground.

"I really didn't want to go to my two-seamer," Penn said. "I thought I had pretty good finish on my four-seamer, so me and Sato stuck with it. We had a couple of jam jobs late in the game. It was a big pitch for me."

With the ball moving off the sweet spot of Dragons bats and Satozaki calling in surgical strikes with the curve at opportune moments, Penn came up with perhaps the biggest win of his career.

Penn left with one out in the fifth and runners on second and third, but lefty Takuya Furuya prevented the Central League champs from making any inroads.

"The game was a little bit in the balance," Penn said. "A base hit there and who knows. That was a huge, huge part of the game for us.

"I'm sure when this year's over and I look back on it, it's got to be one of the big moments in my career," he said.

Giants send Obispo north

The Yomiuri Giants on Friday announced they had sent right-hander Wirfin Obispo to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters for lefty Hideki Sunaga and outfielder Toshimasa Konta.

Obispo, 26, was 8-4 with a 3.67 ERA since 2007. Sunaga is 0-3 in 24 games since the Fighters made him their second draft pick in 2002. Konta, 30, drafted sixth the same year, has primarily been used as a defensive replacement, pinch-hitter and pinch-runner.


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