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Tanaka outduels Saito 5 years after classic Koshien clash

by Jim Allen (Sep 11, 2011)

This wasn't a 24-inning epic, but in their first duel in five years, Masahiro Tanaka and Yuki Saito didn't disappoint.

Tanaka, whose Komadai Tomakomai High School was beaten by Saito and Waseda Jitsugyo High School over two days in August 2006, came out on top on Saturday in the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles' 4-1 victory over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Sendai.

Before a sellout crowd of 20,809 at Kleenex Stadium Miyagi, Tanaka (15-4) struck out 12 over the distance, allowing one unearned run on five hits and a walk. The walk, to veteran Tomohiro Nishioka, drove in the Fighters' only run with two outs in the ninth.

Takeshi Yamasaki's sacrifice fly gave the Eagles a 1-0 lead in the first, while three runs on four hits in the sixth appeared to put the game on ice.

"This [matchup] is something a lot of people had been looking forward to ever since he [Saito] turned pro [this year], and it finally became a reality," Tanaka said in a televised postgame interview. "I am really happy that so many people came to see the game.

"I think I did well for not being in the best condition, but the ninth inning was terrible. No matter what, I couldn't seem to get out of my funk.

"I wanted so much to shut them out."

Saito (5-4) allowed four runs on 10 hits and a walk. The rookie right-hander struck out one in tossing the first complete game of his career.

Five years ago on Aug. 20 and 21, Saito pitched two straight complete games, the first a 15-inning, 1-1 tie that forced a nine-inning replay of the final of the national high school championship at Koshien Stadium.

Tanaka finished the first game for Komadai Tomakomai by allowing one run in 12-2/2 innings of relief to force the second.

The following day, Saito started, while Tanaka again entered in relief. With two outs in the first and his school already a run down, Tanaka finished the game, but Saito held the lead all the way and struck out Tanaka for the final out to secure the national title.

Tanaka turned pro out of high school, but Saito went to Waseda University, delaying their rematch until Saturday, with the Eagles badly in need of a win.

The Eagles, who won 12 of 14 between Aug. 20 and Sept. 4, had since dropped three straight.

"We had a winning streak going and then a little losing streak, and things were getting uneasy," Tanaka said. "We wanted to take this game, so I was very motivated to win it."

The Eagles opened the scoring in the bottom of the first when Kensuke Uchimura reached on a one-out infield single, went to third on Yosuke Takasu's double and scored on Yamasaki's sacrifice fly.

Luis Garcia, Masato Nakamura and Motohiro Shima each plated runs in the sixth as the Eagles gave Tanaka a sizable lead.

Takasu led off with a single and scored from second on Garcia's two-out single. Saito pitched Garcia tough, but the right-handed hitter elevated a 1-2 fork low and away to plate the runner.

With pinch-runner Wataru Nishimura in for Garcia, Saito worked the next hitter up high and hung a 3-1 running fastball. Nakamura tripled off the top of the wall in left.

Shima then lined a 1-1 cutter to right to score Nakamura and make it 4-0.

===

Hawks overrun Marines

In Chiba, Seiichi Uchikawa went 3-for-4 with five RBIs and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks had 22 hits in an 18-3 demolition of the Chiba Lotte Marines at QVC Marine Field.

The Pacific League leaders, who moved seven games ahead of the second-place Fighters, had Japan pro baseball's highest run total since they beat the Marines here 19-1 on June 29, 2010.

Having been two-hit in a 2-0 loss on Friday, Uchikawa said the team was eager to score early.

"The batters let the pitchers down yesterday, so we were looking to scrap for runs," he said. "It didn't matter who got the hits as long as we could get on the board."

His sacrifice fly opened the scoring in the first after Yuichi Honda singled with one out, stole second and advanced to third on a wild throw. Uchikawa's RBI double made it 2-0 in the third and his three-run homer iced the game in the fourth.

Shota Oba (7-1) allowed three runs in seven innings for the Hawks, while Marines starter Bill Murphy (2-5) allowed five runs, three earned, in 3-1/3 innings.


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