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Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2006

Cabrera powers Lions in crucial victory


Staff writer

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. -- A day after Julio Zuleta took over Invoice Seibu Dome, Lions first baseman Alex Cabrera wasn't going to be shown up again.

News photo
Lions infielder Alex Cabrera smacks a two-run homer in the third inning in Tuesday's game against Fukuoka Softbank at Invoice Seibu Dome. The Lions beat the Hawks 6-2. KYODO PHOTOS

Zuleta homered three times Monday for Softbank, and Cabrera came back with a solid reply, driving in four runs as Seibu beat the Hawks 6-2 Tuesday to help the Lions stay in second place in the Pacific League.

Cabrera went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run in the third inning and a two-run triple in the fourth, helping to give Daisuke Matsuzaka all the run support he needed.

Matsuzaka (17-4) turned in a solid complete-game effort, striking out eight and giving up seven hits for the cadre of major league scouts on hand to witness the major league-bound right-hander. Five MLB teams scouted Matsuzaka on Tuesday.

It was a crucial win for Seibu, which fell out of first place in the PL after Monday's loss. The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters beat the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 2-1 Tuesday in Sendai to maintain their half-game lead over the Lions. Softbank trails Nippon Ham by two games.

The top two seeds in the three-team PL postseason will host a home series, and with the Lions, Hawks and Fighters within a breath of each other in the regular season's final stretch, every game is huge.

Seibu opened the scoring against Softbank starter Nagisa Arakaki (13-4) in the second inning, plating a run when Yoshihito Ishii scored from second base on a throwing error by rookie second baseman Yuichi Honda.

In the third, Hiroyuki Takagi doubled, and two batters later, Cabrera got just enough of an Arakaki pitch to clear the fence in right-center field for his 31st home run of the season.

Cabrera assured that he would be the gaijin power-hitting first baseman of the night in the eighth inning, stepping to the plate with runners on the corners and clubbing -- Cabrera hit the ball so hard other descriptives would fall short -- a shot to center field, bringing Takagi and Hiroyuki Nakajima home for a couple insurance runs.

Hiroshi Hirao got credit for most bland RBI of the night, scoring Nakajima when he was walked with the bases loaded in the seventh.

Arakaki was chased in the fourth inning before he recorded an out, and Softbank used five pitchers in relief, but it was for naught as Matsuzaka kept the Hawks lineup on the ropes, ending Softbank's five-game unbeaten streak.

Matsuzaka faced Zuleta in two pivotal and identical situations, and although the Hawks got a run out of each at-bat, it was a relative improvement after the first baseman torched Seibu for five RBIs Monday.

Zuleta stepped to the plate in both the sixth and eighth innings with one out and runners at the corners. The first time, Zuleta hit an RBI single to center field, and the second time he reached base on Takagi's throwing error, which robbed him of a fielder's choice when the throw sailed by Cabrera.

Both teams are off Wednesday and Thursday, and Seibu returns to action Friday, when it plays Rakuten.

The Hawks will host Orix on Saturday.

Inaba lifts Fighters

SENDAI (Kyodo) Atsunori Inaba hit a tiebreaking RBI single in the sixth inning Tuesday, helping to lift the first-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to a 2-1 win over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Pacific League.

Buffaloes 1, Marines 0

At Chiba Marine Stadium, Tom Davey pitched a four hitter with five strikeouts in his first complete-game shutout in fourth season in Japan as Orix sent Lotte to its fourth defeat in five games.

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Hanshin Tigers starter Naohisa Sugiyama pitches against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on Tuesday at Koshien Stadium.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

BayStars 8, Dragons 5

At Yokohama Stadium, Tatsuhiko Kinjo hit a two-run homer and Yuki Yoshimura added a three-run drive as the BayStars prevailed over first-place Chunichi.

Tigers 9, Swallows 1

At Koshien Stadium, Naohisa Sugiyama allowed five hits and no walks over the distance against Tokyo Yakult to lead Hanshin to its third straight win and a season-high 18 games over .500.

Giants 7, Carp 5

At Hiroshima Stadium, Hiroki Kokubo hit a grand slam off Katsuhiro Nagakawa (5-6) to rally Yomiuri from behind in the eighth inning and Masanori Hayashi (4-4) got the win in relief after starter Jeremy Powell allowed four runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 shaky innings.



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