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The cleanup king: Ramirez homers in club-record 416th consecutive game in No. 4 hole

by Jim Allen (May 3, 2011)

Alex Ramirez played his 416th straight game in the Giants' cleanup spot on Sunday and once more provided the goods.

Ramirez drove in the game's first run and later homered for the second straight game as Yomiuri beat the BayStars 7-5 at wet and windy Yokohama Stadium.

"To be able to play every day is not easy. It takes good help from the trainer, the coaches, the manager and a level of trust," said Ramirez, who broke Hideki Matsui's team record for consecutive games in the No. 4 hole.

His one-out RBI single opened the scoring in the first inning, when the Giants racked up five runs against rookie right-hander Kota Suda (0-1).

While Ramirez was setting his record, teammate Michihiro Ogasawara moved to within two hits of Japan's magical 2,000-hit milestone.

With one on and one out, Ogasawara got jammed on a high fastball, but the fly eluded second baseman Naoto Watanabe in the wind and fell for hit No. 1,998.

Ramirez then pounced on a high 1-1 fastball and launched it the opposite way. His fly came off the right-field wall for a single that plated a run. Ogasawara was run down between third and home for the second out on a grounder, but Yoshiyuki Kamei rescued the inning with a two-out single that scored Ramirez.

Kamei stole second on the first pitch and Rusty Ryal, who doubled twice and drove in a run, walked to load the bases for Kato.

The backup catcher, seeing extensive duty due to an injury to regular Shinnosuke Abe, went for a fastball low and away and cleared the bases with a double.

Kato's second hit in his first 17 at-bats this year gave him the second three-RBI game of his career. His other came on Sept. 21, 2007, when he hit a three-run homer against the BayStars at Tokyo Dome.

"He can hit a lot better than he has," Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said of Kato.

But for the Giants, who started the day in fifth place, the problem has not been hitting, but starting pitching. Sunday saw more of the same.

Carlos Torres allowed five runs in 3-2/2 innings, largely due to four straight two-out walks in the fourth.

"Anybody who walks four straight batters should be shot," he said. "We changed [what we were trying to do] and it didn't work."

He also allowed two solo homers to Shuichi Murata, with the wind helping on the slugger's first one.

"The wind was blowing 100 miles an hour," Torres said. "The first home run was a joke, the second one would have gone out anywhere in the world."

Although lefty Yasunari Takagi gave up a two-run single to Takehiro Ishikawa before escaping the inning, the next four relievers combined to finish with five shutout innings.

"The bullpen picked us up and got the job done," Torres said.

The Giants, who abandoned Tokyo Dome for April when unable to play home night games because of the current energy shortage, will play their first game there on Tuesday.

"It's positive. Everyone is really excited about going back to Tokyo Dome," said Ramirez, who homered off high-kicking side-arm righty Shigeru Kaga to open the eighth and complete the scoring.

Each team used six pitchers in the game and the teams combined to use 35 in the three-game series.

With the game moving slowly and no extra-inning allowed to start than 3-1/2 hours after game time, both managers were emptying their bullpens.

Right-hander Yuya Kubo, the Giants' fourth pitcher, allowed a hit and struck out two in two scoreless innings to earn the win. Levi Romero followed with a perfect ninth to record his third save.

"The best thing would be for our starters to throw a shutout," Hara said. "Usually [in a situation like today] I want each reliever to go two innings, but there was no way today's game was going past nine innings.

"Now we go home with a little win streak [two games]. The best thing is for us to be home."

At Koshien Stadium, Wladimir Balentien homered twice and drove in three runs as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows avoided a three-game sweep with a 6-2 win over the Hanshin Tigers.

At Nagoya Dome, Tony Blanco hit a tiebreaking RBI double in the eighth inning, and the Chunichi Dragons added another run before holding off the Hiroshima Carp 5-4.

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Pacific League

In Chiba, Tadashi Settsu (2-1) allowed two runs over seven innings as the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks clobbered the Chiba Lotte Marines 8-3.

Settsu surrendered eight hits and two walks to win his second straight start and his second straight matchup against right-hander Atsuhiro Mitsuhara.

In Sapporo, Saitama Seibu's Ryo Sakata tied the game with a sixth-inning sacrifice fly as the Lions played to a 3-3, 10-inning tie with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

Fighters rookie Yuki Saito blew a two-run lead in the inning, allowing three-straight, no-out singles and Sakata's sacrifice fly.

In Sendai, Tohoku Rakuten made two errors in a six-run third inning and lost 10-3 to the Orix Buffaloes.


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