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Saturday, Sept. 16, 2006

Aoki, Swallows give Romano tough time


Staff writer

It took getting ahead for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows to get even.

News photo
Norichika Aoki of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows belts a grand slam during the fourth inning of Friday's game off Hiroshima Carp starter Mike Romano at Jingu Stadium. KYODO PHOTO

Norichika Aoki hit a grand slam in a seven-run fourth inning as the Swallows roughed up Hiroshima Carp starter Mike Romano and held on for an 8-5 win Friday at Jingu Stadium, drawing the victors back to .500 for the season.

A year from now, the Swallows would be fighting to hang on to the Central League's third and final playoff spot as the season dwindled, but in the CL's final season without a postseason, Yakult is far back from anything resembling a pennant race.

But the Swallows still have plenty to play for.

"We're excited, and finishing in the A-group, the top three, is really important to us," said Rick Guttormson, who lasted 6 2/3 innings in picking up the win Friday. "We want to finish above .500, so in a lot of ways, it has the excitement of being in a pennant race."

Guttormson (8-9) got the best of Romano in the pitchers' duel, keeping the wheels on before Hiroshima's lineup figured out his slider and started getting back into the game.

Guttormson struck out six and walked one, exhibiting good control most of the way, and enjoying a win against fellow foreigner Romano.

But the part that had him smiling really big on the way home was what he did at the plate.

"It's fun (pitching against Romano), but getting a hit against him is even more fun," said Guttormson, who went 1-for-3 with a single.

Finding the same glee was much tougher for Romano (5-8) as he walked to the bus.

The Illinois-born right-hander took a no-hitter into the fourth inning that became more of a no-chancer by the time he managed to get out of the inning.

The Swallows sent 10 batters to the plate in the fourth, when Guttormson singled, but the big strokes were Masakazu Morikasa's two-run single and Aoki's slam to the bleachers in right field.

Hiroshima's pitchers did a good job of keeping the Swallows under control outside the fourth inning, but the breakdown was another frustration for Carp skipper Marty Brown.

"It's very frustrating for everyone, and especially for Mike Romano," Brown said. "He had good command through the first three innings, but then when he faced a little adversity in the third, his pace started to change."

Consistent pitching is something the Carp lack, and it is No. 1 on Brown's wishlist for the offseason, but for now, he is trying to get what he can from his hurlers.

"It's not just Mike," Brown said. "We're seeing some good things, but what we're also seeing is guys who are out there waiting for something bad to happen instead of just making things happen."

Aoki led all batters, going 2-for-5 with the grand slam and an RBI single in the eighth inning.

The Swallows and Carp will wrap up the three game series with tieups on Saturday and Sunday at Jingu.

Dragons extend lead

NAGOYA (Kyodo) Hirokazu Ibata opened the scoring with a first-inning RBI single and Kenshin Kawakami threw eight shutout innings as the Chunichi Dragons trounced the Hanshin Tigers 7-0 to widen their Central League lead to five games Friday.

Ibata singled to center with none out and a runner on second and Alex Ochoa made it 2-0 with a two-out single in the first in the opener of a crucial three-game series at Nagoya Dome between the top two CL teams.

Chunichi extended the lead on an RBI double by Motonobu Tanishige in the sixth and a bases-clearing double by Kazuki Inoue in the seventh.

Kawakami (15-5), who had lost his previous three starts, held Hanshin to three hits -- all singles -- while striking out 10 and walking none to become the first 15-game winner in the league.

Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi (10-11) was charged with three runs -- two earned -- and eight hits in six innings.

PACIFIC LEAGUE

Lions 5, Buffaloes 3

At Invoice Seibu Dome, Yasuyuki Kataoka drove home the go-ahead run and Jeff Liefer went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, leading front-running Seibu over Orix.

Kataoka gave the Lions the lead for good in the bottom of the sixth inning with a two-out single off rookie right-hander Yoshihisa Hirano (7-11) before Alex Cabrera capped the scoring with a solo homer in the seventh.

Fighters 5, Marines 3

At Sapporo Dome, Fernando Seguignol and Atsunori Inaba hit back-to-back homers in a four-run first inning and Hokkaido Nippon Ham went on to beat Chiba Lotte for its sixth win in seven games.

Seguignol put the Fighters on the board with a three-run blast and Inaba followed with a solo shot off Lotte starter Shunsuke Watanabe (5-11) before Lotte cut the lead to 4-2 on RBI hits by Koji Hirashita and Akira Otsuka.



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