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Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006

Lions win feels like a defeat


Staff writer

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. -- Extra innings, and all for nothing.

News photo
Chiba Lotte Marines baserunner Tsuyoshi Nishioka slides home safely on a sacrifice fly by Kazuya Fukuura while Seibu Lions catcher Koji Tahara attempts to make the tag in the seventh inning on Wednesday at Invoice Seibu Dome. KYODO PHOTO

Kazuya Fukuura couldn't glove a hard Takeya Nakamura grounder with the bases loaded in the 10th inning, giving the Seibu Lions a 4-3 victory over Chiba Lotte in its regular-season finale Wednesday at Invoice Seibu Dome, but the battle won didn't cancel out a bigger loss.

The victory was a breath of fresh air after Tuesday's setback, but because the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters posted a 4-1 win over the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks on Wednesday, Seibu's positive result didn't matter -- the Fighters clinched the Pacific League's top seed and the Lions were stuck with No. 2.

Seibu still hosts a postseason series, a best-of-three slate from Oct. 7-9 against the Hawks, but the first-round bye and 1-0 series advantage for the PL finals belong to Sapporo's finest. Fans in Tokorozawa cheered when the scoreboard showed that Softbank had taken a 1-0 lead Wednesday -- a Fighters loss paired with a Lions victory would have awarded the coveted top spot to Seibu -- but when the Fighters came back to take a 3-1 lead, the updates stopped.

Presumably it was to keep from deflating morale -- that of the loud crowd of 27,269 or the Lions themselves.

Jeff Liefer had a hero-interview worthy performance, hitting a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to knot up the score and coming back with a double in the 10th that set up the winning run.

G.G. Sato came on as a pinch-runner for Liefer, and Sato advanced to third on an Alex Cabrera grounder. With 2005 PL batting champ Kazuhiro Wada stepping to the plate, the Marines intentionally walked the next two batters, setting up the possibility of a double play for Nakamura.

Yasutomo Kubo (7-13) had one last chance to get out of the inning, but Nakamura was not to be denied.

The beefy Nakamura, who hit an RBI double in the second and hit the deck after fouling a ball off his left foot in the fourth, burned one right down the line at Fukuura, who couldn't get his glove on it. It was the Marines' second error.

Chikara Onodera (7-3) pitched a perfect 10th inning, striking out one, to earn the victory for Seibu.

Marines starter Shunsuke Watanabe (5-11) tried to put a pretty finish on what has been a disappointing and difficult year for the affable submarine pitcher, who was a postseason dynamo during Lotte's run to the Japan Series championship in 2005.

Watanabe struck out eight and walked one, leaving with a 3-2 lead after 7 1/3 innings. He gave up a single to Hiroyuki Takagi, who was advanced to second on Koji Tahara's sacrifice bunt.

Watanabe was pulled for Soichi Fujita, who got out of the threat.

Justin Miller came on in the top of the eighth, and after facing just one batter, Liefer, Miller had saddled the starter with a no decision.

The Lions took a 2-0 lead after Nakamura's double and Takagi's subsequent RBI single, which scored the third baseman from second base.

The Marines first marked in the third, as Fukuura scored when Toshiaki Imae hit into a fielder's choice.

Tomoya Satozaki had a sacrifice fly in the fifth to score Akira Otsuka, while Fukuura added another sac fly in the seventh, which scored Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who barely beat left fielder Wada's throw to home plate, and gave the Marines the lead.

Fumiya Nishiguchi took a no-hitter into the fourth inning before petering out, lasting six-plus innings and being charged with all of Lotte's runs. Nishiguchi struck out four and walked four, allowing six hits.

Shogo Akada, Takagi and Nakamura all had multiple hits for Seibu.

The Lions are off until the PL Stage 1 playoffs begin, and Lotte, which missed the postseason after winning the interleague championships in 2005 and 2006 as well as the PL, Japan Series and Asia Series titles in 2005, will wrap up its season with a makeup game against Tohoku Rakuten on Sunday in Sendai.

Hammies win division

SAPPORO (Kyodo) Kensuke Tanaka hit a tying solo home run and Fernando Seguignol followed one out later with a go-ahead blast in the fourth inning Wednesday to rally the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to a 4-1 victory over the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

Rookie left-hander Masaru Takeda combined with Yu Darvish, Hisashi Takeda and Micheal Nakamura to hold Softbank to one run and eight hits with no walks. Nakamura worked a scoreless ninth, setting a new single-season PL record with his 39th save.

Eagles 1, Buffaloes 0

At Kobe's Skymark Stadium, second-year infielder Tatsuya Shiokawa hit his career first home run to break a scoreless deadlock in the eighth, helping lift Tohoku Rakuten over Orix.

Buffaloes manager Katsuhiro Nakamura said he will leave the team.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Dragons 6, BayStars 3

At Nagoya Dome, Masahiko Morino homered to highlight a four-run rally in the fourth and first-place Chunichi cut its magic number to 10.

Tigers 5, Carp 1

At Koshien Stadium, left-hander Kei Igawa pitched a six-hitter and Andy Sheets and Osamu Hamanaka hit two-run homers as Hanshin routed Hiroshima.

Swallows 9, Giants 7

At Jingu Stadium, Ryuji Miyade had a bases-clearing triple as Tokyo Yakult overcame a five-run deficit to tie the game in the fourth.



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