|Sapporo Nippon Ham catcher Shinji Takahashi's
first lifetime grand slam in the bottom of the seventh Monday at Sapporo
Dome erased a 7-6 Chiba Lotte Marines edge and powered the home nine to
a 10-7 victory. Takahashi's heroics enabled reliever Tomokazu Iba to grab
his first win of the season while Lotte reliever Takashi Kawai was blamed
for the defeat to continue a string of blown leads by Bobby Valentine's
pitching staff that has resulted in a continued last place showing.
Naoyuki Tateishi made his first start of the season for Nippon Ham and fought himself over five innings, giving up four hits and walking four, but he permitted just one run to score. However, successors Hiroshi Shibakusa, Tatsuhito Kato, Kiyoshi Sasaki and Iba were shaken down for six runs between them to make a 4-1 lead become a 6-4 and then a 7-6 deficit before Takahashi decided it.
Hiroyuki Kobayashi started for Lotte and got rocked for six runs, four earned, in 5.2 innings on seven hits, and the bullpen wasn't much better.
Nippon Ham lent Tateishi an immediate lead when centerfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo reached on a one out first inning error by Lotte third baseman Kiyoshi Hatsushiba and, one out later, first baseman Fernando Seguignol crushed a Kobayashi delivery into the rightcenterfield seats to put the Fighters up 2-0.
Both sides failed to convert on some minor scoring opportunities in the ensuing innings before Lotte centerfielder Jun Inoue smacked a Tateishi pitch into the rightfield bleachers to make it 2-1 with two outs in the fifth. Lotte would then load the bases on a single and a pair of walks, but first baseman Kazuya Fukuura struckout to waste a chance to seize the upper hand.
In the home portion, Shinjo got a one out slider up in the zone and crashed it off the leftfield foul pole, his first roundtripper in 15 games. One out later, Seguignol drilled his second of the night into the seats in left to expand the Fighters lead to 4-1.
Lotte would then go on a crusade in the sixth against Shibakusa and three others, though, and surmounted that disparity. Hatsushiba leadoff with a jack into the leftcenterfield stands. Rightfielder Saburo Omura singled to center. Kato entered from the bullpen and, one out later, shortstop Makoto Kosaka, who has elevated his average markedly over the last week, laced one through the rightcenter gap and he sped around to third on the RBI triple. Sasaki replaced Kato. Akira Otsuka, pinch hitting for Inoue, drilled a double to leftcenter to plate Kosaka to knot it at four all. Second baseman Koichi Hori walked. Iba spelled Sasaki. Leftfielder Matt Franco flew out. However, DH Benny Agbayani pinged a shot off the centerfield fence for a triple and two runs scored to make it 6-4 Lotte. But Fukuura applied the brakes to the festivities once more when he went down on strikes.
Kobayashi wouldn't hold the line. Third baseman Kuniyuki Kimoto commenced the bottom of the frame with a walk and, one out later, second baseman Kokichi Akune buried one in the rightfield bleachers to equalize it at 6-6.
To their credit, Lotte's offense kept moving, as Hatsushiba blooped a leadoff double to center in the seventh and, two outs later, Kosaka singled to center to push Hatsushiba in for a 7-6 lead.
But that would disappear, too. With one down, DH Tomoyuki Oda, one of the real finds of the season so far for the Fighters, singled to left with one out off of Kawai as did Seguignol. Yasuhiko Yabuta jogged in and took the ball from Kawai. One out later, Kimoto walked to pack the sacks. Valentine then summoned lefthander Soichi Fujita to face the righthanded Takahashi, who has batted just .136 to date against southpaws. Takahashi worked the count full and then got a slider he could handle, smoking it into the seats in left to make it 10-7 Nippon Ham. It also put his team in the top slot in homers with 50 and was the club's first bases loaced clout since last August.
The Lotte lineup was retired in order in both the eighth and ninth and the Fighters had their fifth straight victory at Sapporo Dome.
Seguignol loves home cooking, as he is 25-54 (.463) with ten homers and 23 RBIs at Sapporo in 2004. His 3-3 night raised his average to .414. What a difference with 2002!
True to form, the loopy Shinjo joked to reporters after the game, "shouldn't you get a prize for hitting the foul pole? Maybe some underwear or something."
Valetine sat slumping Seung-yeop Lee down, though he was ultimately used as a pinch hitter, striking out in his lone at bat.
Nippon Ham is on pace to eclipse its club record of 177 homers.
|Osaka Orix Blue Wave starter Hisashi Ogura
and Kintetsu Buffaloes starter Jeremy Powell were each tagged for three
runs in 7.1 innings and then neither team could push a run across after
that and so it ended as a 3-3 tie Monday at Osaka Dome. Orix skipper Haruki
Ihara, perhaps due to the three strikeouts leftfielder Yoshitomo Tani had
already racked up earlier in this game, had his .328 hitting charge attempt
to sacrifice in the 12th with men on first and second and nobody out and
he popped up to the catcher to give the Buffs a free out. Nevertheless,
baseball otaku will be discussing whether or not Ihara's sanity left him
when he had one of the Pacific League's top hitters and Orix' three hole
guy try to bunt, especially when his average with runners in scoring position
leads the circuit at .400.
Kintetsu broke a scoreless match in the fourth when DH Kenshi Kawaguchi singled to right and, two outs later, first baseman Hirotoshi Kitagawa singled to left and rookie leftfielder Hiroaki Onishi singled to left as well to propell Kawaguchi in for a 1-0 lead.
Powell extricated himself from a two on, one out situation in the third and had a little easier time in the fourth after hitting a batter. But in the fifth, he hung a one out curve ball to DH Takeshi Yamasaki and though Yamasaki got it a little toward the end of the bat, he launched it into the leftfield bleachers to even it at one all. Catcher Takeshi Hidaka doubled down the leftfield line and third baseman Hidemitsu Saito walked. Centerfielder Arihito Muramatsu, who despite his speed had already grounded into seven double plays before the at bat, grounded into a 4-6-3 twin killing to end the inning.
Orix should have disposed of Powell in the sixth, but didn't. Second baseman Keiichi Hirano leadoff with a double into the leftfield corner and Tani singled to right. Rightfielder Roosevelt Brown walked to load the bases. First baseman Jose Ortiz hit it real hard, but right at second baseman Eiji Mizuguchi for the first out. Shortstop Mitsutaka Goto singled to right and Hirano crossed to make it 2-1. Yamasaki, though, came up empty and Hidaka flew out to left to frustrate the attempt at a big inning.
In the seventh, Powell hung another curve ball and Saito lost it in the leftfield stands to stretch Orix' advantage to 3-1.
Kintetsu field boss Masataka Nashida had Powell ascend the hill for the eighth and he got himself into some major hot water. Brown walked. Ortiz played jai lai with the leftfield wall for a long single. Goto legged out a roller toward third to juice the bags. Powell struck Yamasaki out and was then traded in for Hideo Koike. Hidaka bounced into a 3-2 force. Kota Soejima, pinch hitting for Saito, flied out to center and the crisis was over.
Ogura was pushed out to the mound for the eighth, too and it was an inning too far. With one away, centerfielder Naoyuki Omura singled to right. Mizuguchi singled to right. Tatsuo Kato tooki Ogura's place and threw a wild pitch and the runners moved up 90 feet. Pinch hitter Fumitoshi Takano flew out to center and Omura tagged up and toed the dish. Third baseman Norihiro Nakamura was intentionally walked. Rightfielder Koichi Isobe doubled off the leftfield wall and Mizuguchi was in with the tying run to make it 3-3. But Kitagawa flew to center to keep it at equilibrium.
Kintetsu had a man on second with one out in the tenth, but stranded him. Orix had two on and one out in the 11th and saw that get sabotaged by a double play ball.
So it went into the 12th and Muramatsu outran a ground ball toward second. Reliever Kazuo Fukumori plunked Hirano. That brought up Tani and he didn't get the runners over. Pinch hitter Koichi Oshima grounded to first and the runners did advance. Ortiz, though, struckout.
Kintetsu would then have a shot at winning it against Hiroshi Kobayashi in the 12th. Catcher Akihito Fujii got aboard on an infield hit. Two outs later, Jun Hagiwara came on and Takano singled to left. Nakamura, however, was blown away and it was officially a deadlock. .
Ihara has been applying the iron fist treatment more this season
than he did at Seibu. His reputation is as a player development guy and
the Lions success they are enhoying these days is thanks to a combination
of good scouting and Ihara's ability to get the most out of his players.
|After throwing brilliantly in a four inning relief stint the other
day, lefthander Tsuyoshi Wada will start on the 14th against Lotte at Chiba
Marine Stadium hoping to end the team's losing streak against Bobby Valentine,
which is 15 and counting.
Manager Sadaharu Oh is having 18 year old rookie Akashi workout in the outfield. He will get in some Western League starts there before being brought up to the big club.
In what promises to be the premier pitching matchup of the day, Seibu's Daisuke Matsuzaka faces Daiei's Toshiya Sugiuchi Tuesday. Second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, who took batting practice
|Monday, will be back in the lineup. He is 9-24 against Matsuzaka
lifetime (note that Ichiro hit only about a buck off of the righthander
Rookie Takahiro Mahara will be available in the bullpen during the series.
Junji Hoshino will start on the 12th. He hasn't won a game against the Lions since May, 1999.
And since we mentioned both Wada and Iguchi, the pair were at a meet and greet Monday in Fukuoka that drew 1200 fans.
|First baseman Alex Cabrera sill be back in Japan on the 21st after
going down during the exhibition schedule with a forearm fracture due to
being hit by a pitch. However, it is unlikely he will be ready for top
club action until July.
Masahide Kaizuka has done a very good job at Cabrera's position and
|The big Venezuelan boosts his team's confidence dramatically when
he is in the lineup. Moreover, a fresh Cabrera in the second half should
terrify overworked Japanese pitching. And who wants to be the first guy
to come up and in on him? He might get a personal visit from Cabrera in
such a case and it won't be a social call.
|Bullpen catcher Shunsuke Sugiyama, who spent a total of eight seasons
with Daie and Yokohama but only got into one game, has signed with the
team as an active player once again to cover for
injuries to Masaumi Shimizu and Tomoya Satozaki. One wonders
|what Lotte's minor league catchers think of this development. In
any event, Sugiyama, 26, is happy at the turn of events and hopes he can