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Uchikawa steps up to help BayStars snap skid

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Uchikawa steps up to help BayStars snap skid

by Jim Allen (Apr 26, 2008)

An unlikely lineup choice helped turn around slumping Yokohama on Friday as good timing and a poor decision by the Hiroshima Carp helped snap the BayStars' five-game losing streak.

Manager Akihiko Oya started light-hitting utility man Seiichi Uchikawa at first base and batted him sixth, and Uchikawa led the BayStars to a tense 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Hiroshima at Yokohama Stadium.

Uchikawa made his skipper's hunch payoff by playing a part in all three Yokohama runs as the BayStars overcame a strong start by hard-throwing right-hander Colby Lewis (3-3).

"We have been playing worse than anyone could expect, but the manager had faith in me," said Uchikawa, who began his career as a slick-fielding middle infielder before becoming a reserve outfielder last season.

Although he hadn't played first in over a year, Oya needed something to spark his struggling 'Stars, who have had plenty of runners this season but little to show for it.

Despite having more base runners than average and hitting for more power than average, the last-place BayStars rank fifth in the Central League in runs.

"We weren't playing well. We weren't hitting. But Uchikawa was swinging the bat well and I had to find someplace to play him," Oya said. "I'd had this plan in mind for a while now, and figured now was as good a chance as any."

Uchikawa's second-inning triple tied the score after Carp cleanup man Kenta Kurihara went deep to open the top of the inning.

"We've been really scraping for runs," Uchikawa said. "Having given up the lead and suddenly having a scoring chance, all of us players were burning to catch up."

With Uchikawa at third, however, Lewis retired 14 of the next 16 batters he faced. Meanwhile, Carp leadoff man Soichiro Amaya gave the visitors a 2-1 lead with a solo homer in the top of the third off BayStars starter Mike Wood.

Hiroshima then proceeded to create and squander one opportunity after another, leaving a runner in scoring position in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Lefty reliever Matt White (1-0) came in to face Amaya in the seventh with two outs and a runner on second. White got the Carp's tough new leadoff man for the third out, and the BayStars got another chance in the seventh.

Tatsuya Ozeki, an offseason signing who came off the bench when starting left fielder Larry Bigbie twisted his ankle scoring Yokohama's first run, doubled to open the seventh.

Ozeki went to third on an Uchikawa single and, with the infield playing for two, Lewis got a grounder to short. But that's where the defense lost the plot. Carp shortstop Eishin Soyogi tried for the out at the plate and didn't make it.

"What killed us was not turning the double play and going to the plate," said Hiroshima manager Marty Brown. "We set it up to get outs. That made Colby pitch way more than he should have."

After a sacrifice and an intentional walk that loaded the bases with one out, another grounder to short failed to get two and Uchikawa scored the go-ahead run.

Takeo Kawamura, pitching in his first game of the year, retired the final two Carp hitters to earn the save.

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