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Ace upstaged / Lions reserve Uemoto takes Darvish deep as Seibu holds on to beat Nippon Ham

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Ace upstaged / Lions reserve Uemoto takes Darvish deep as Seibu holds on to beat Nippon Ham

by John E. Gibson (Jul 9, 2009)

Nippon Ham's top pitcher looked like a mere mortal. Seibu's little-known part-timer looked out of this world.

Tetsuyuki Uemoto clubbed a two-run pinch-hit homer in the seventh inning off Fighters ace Yu Darvish to take the lead, and the Lions' bullpen closed the door for a 4-3 comeback win on Wednesday night.

Uemoto, a seventh-year pro out the industrial league, who hit his first career homer on Sunday in Sendai (also a two-run shot) had to sweat out a lengthy ninth inning before Chikara Onodera locked up the club's fifth straight win.

Uemoto jumped all over an inside fastball, ripping it over the wall in the power alley in right center and dropping nearly every jaw in the crowd of 13,892 at Seibu Dome.

Uemoto admitted he was a little surprised himself.

"I don't even hit balls like that in batting practice," joked the 28-year-old, who gave a fist pump while rounding the bases and was pretty excited after the round-tripper.

"I really didn't know what I was doing," he said about his reaction. "My first home run, I didn't feel it off the bat very much at all, but this one felt really good."

Darvish (10-3) allowed a season-high four runs on nine hits and two walks, while fanning five. He lost for the first time since June 6, but said the pitch to Uemoto wasn't a mistake.

"It was a fastball middle in; it wasn't that bad a pitch. It was just a good piece of hitting," said Darvish, the PL leader in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts.

It was the reigning Japan Series champions' fifth straight win and put them a game over .500. More importantly, the win helped the third-place Lions move a game closer to being relevant in the battle for the Pacific League title.

"We have to get moving up in the standings, so the fact that we got to Darvish might give us some momentum. I hope we can win tomorrow, too," said Seibu skipper Hisanobu Watanabe, who said he had no qualms about sending Uemoto to the plate in that situation.

"[Takayuki] Shimizu got on base and I didn't think we were going to get many chances against Darvish," Watanabe said. "Whether it was the right move or the wrong move, I was going to send Uemoto up.

"He has been swinging well. He got that one pitch and was able to hit it out. He got the job done."

Tetsuya Iwasaki (2-0) got the win in relief with a scoreless seventh inning and Tomoki Hoshino faced just three in the eighth. Onodera allowed a one-out single before getting a lineout double play to end the game and collect his 10th save.

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