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Lions roar past Fighters / Nakajima leads power surge as Seibu takes opening game of PL finale

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Lions roar past Fighters / Nakajima leads power surge as Seibu takes opening game of PL finale

by Jim Allen (Oct 18, 2008)

SAITAMA--The Saitama Seibu Lions showed no ill effects from a 12-day layoff, opening their playoffs with a comprehensive victory over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Friday.

Hiroyuki Nakajima went 4-for-5 with two home runs to power the Pacific League champs to a 10-3 victory over the Fighters at a sold out Omiya Stadium.

Thanks to the one-game advantage given the league champs this year, the Fighters' first postseason loss left them trailing the best-of-seven second stage by two games. While the Lions hadn't played in nearly two weeks, the Fighters were coming of a two-game sweep in the Climax Series' first stage.

In the first inning, Nakajima turned a belt-high slider that got too much of the plate into his fifth career postseason homer and a one-run lead.

"It really hit my bat well and carried out," said Nakajima, who went deep 21 times this year for the Lions. "Nippon Ham came in here riding some momentum, so it was great to score first.

"They've been playing games and we've been watching. All we could do was practice and prepare. I felt tonight that we put that time to good use."

His two-run shot in the third off Fighters right-hander Ryan Glynn helped trigger a five-run feeding frenzy. After hitting the first out to left, Nakajima took a first-pitch fastball out to right.

"I was really happy with that one because I've been working hard on going the other way," Nakajima said.

Glynn, who went 7-14 in the regular season, allowed 10 runs on 10 hits and three walks over three-plus innings.

Opposing Glynn was young Lions star Hideaki Wakui, who had one of his better starts of the season. The 22-year-old Olympian allowed a run on eight hits over six innings. He struck out eight and walked one.

The right-hander escaped a pair of two-on, no-out jams before Seibu's four-run fourth inning put the game beyond the Fighters' reach.

"I went to the mound just focusing on getting my job done," Wakui said. "I was able to make some big pitches when I needed to. My guys did their jobs, too."

His manager, Hisanobu Watanabe had tasked the youngster to rise to the occasion.

"He pitched out of trouble tonight, something he didn't do a lot in the regular season," Watanabe said. "I demanded he do it tonight and he was up to it."

Nakajima's second homer put Seibu in overdrive. Back-to-back, two-out doubles by Takeya Nakamura and Yoshihito Ishii tacked on another run.

"People say our home runs create momentum, but I'm not necessarily a believer of that," said Watanabe, whose club led the league with 198 roundtrippers. "But tonight, I think it was the case."

Another walk and a triple by Toru Hosokawa made it 6-0 Seibu.

Wakui pitched out of his second jam in the top of the fourth before the Seibu pride scavanged Glynn for one last meal.

Yasuyuki Kataoka tripled and scored on a single by Takumi Kuriyama, and Taketoshi Goto followed Nakajima's third straight hit with a three-run home run. The Lions left two on against reliever Yataro Sakamoto and batted around for the second straight inning.

The Fighters didn't land a punch until Terrmel Sledge's two-out solo home run in the fifth. Sledge doubled in two more in the top of the ninth off lefty Tomoki Hoshino.

Although he was smiling at the end, Wakui was anything but artful at the start. He fell behind the first three batters but got two outs on mishit high pitches. Kensuke Tanaka didn't miss his pitch but died at first after his two-out single.

Tanaka, who had an MVP-caliber season, went 3-for-5 and had one liner hauled in that could have gone for extra bases.

Glynn also retired the first two batters he faced in the game, although No. 2 man Kuriyama, who'd homered in the Lions' game here in June, fouled off three two-strike pitches before grounding out.

"I'd had a good chance to see what he was throwing, and I just reacted well," Nakajima said.

The Lions shorstop said it will be no use trying to guess what Fighters ace Yu Darvish will bring at Seibu Dome in Game 2 today.

"He's got so many pitches, you never know what's coming, so I just want to see the ball and do my best to hit it," Nakajima said. "I don't want to imagine what kind of result but rather just go to the plate with a positive image.

"It's going to be fun."

Upon returning to the Lions' den, Watanabe is expected to counter with right-hander Takayuki Kishi (12-4).

"The other guys are coming with their ace," Watanabe said. "He [Darvish] is a heck of a pitcher, but I want us to go in expecting to keep the pressure on them."

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