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Sunday, Oct. 22, 2006

Dragons grab Game 1

Kawakami goes eight innings in 4-2 win By

Staff writer

NAGOYA -- Once Kenshin Kawakami remembered how to be himself, the game was in the bag.

News photo
Chunichi's Motonobu Tanishige hits a go-ahead two-run double with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the second inning against Hokkaido Nippon Ham in Game 1 of the Japan Series at Nagoya Dome on Saturday night. Chunichi defeated the Fighters 4-2. KYODO PHOTO

Kawakami, a 17-game winner during the regular season, went eight innings, striking out eight and scattering five hits, as the Chunichi Dragons defeated the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 4-2 in Game 1 of the Japan Series on Saturday night at Nagoya Dome.

Tyrone Woods scored two runs, and the Dragons got an inspired start from Kawakami, who struggled early but turned it on during the last five innings he pitched, before turning it over to closer Hitoki Iwase in the ninth.

"Kawakami was superb," Chunichi manager Hiromitsu Ochiai said. "He's our ace, so we expected to win."

It didn't look that simple early in the game, though.

The Dragons pulled ahead in the bottom of the second, as Woods walked to lead off the frame and Masahiko Morino followed up with a double.

Yu Darvish (1-1) struck out Alex Ochoa, so Fighters manager Trey Hillman decided to intentionally walk Kazuki Inoue to load the bases and set up a double play with Motonobu Tanishige coming to bat.

Tanishige's .234 batting average against right-handed pitching set up a favorable matchup to get out of the inning, but the catcher had other ideas, and his single to right field scored Woods and Morino.

"I would do the same thing again," Hillman said. "The pitch was just a little off location.

"I take full accountability when I make managerial decisions. This time it didn't work."

Given a lead, Kawakami couldn't make it stand for even one inning.

Hichori Morimoto, a strikeout victim to lead off the game, singled to right field, and the antelope-like left fielder had no trouble sprinting safely to second base on Kensuke Tanaka's sacrifice bunt.

Michihiro Ogasawara walked, and Fernando Seguignol wasted no time, getting a piece of a Kawakami cutter and putting it into right field.

Morimoto scored and Ogasawara went to third, plating Nippon Ham's second run two batters later when Tsuyoshi Shinjo flied out to left field.

The Fighters' pitching staff walked six batters and hit another, and Darvish issued a walk to Kawakami in the fourth.

"From the pitching standpoint, we can't give that many free passes, unless the situation dictates it from the bench," Hillman said. "Especially to the pitcher and to lead off an inning."

As was the case with Kawakami, Darvish was unable to do much with his reprieve, and were it not for Morimoto gunning out Morino on Inoue's RBI single in the fourth, Chunichi would have had another run.

Darvish kept Dragons right fielder Kosuke Fukudome quiet, fanning him for the second time, as the fourth inning got under way, but Woods and Morino singled -- Morino's hit an infield special that Darvish held too long to get Woods at second or Morino at first -- before Ochoa put the runners in scoring position with a groundout to the pitcher.

Inoue singled to left field and had no play on Woods, but Morimoto's throw was spot-on and catcher Shinya Tsuruoka plugged up the plate and ended the inning.

A changed man tore out of Chunichi's dugout the following inning. It was still No. 11, the same one who dominated the Central League in the first half of the season.

Kawakami wasn't quite himself early on, and it took three innings and two turns through Nippon Ham's order for the right-hander to settle down.

From the fourth inning on, Kawakami's identity crisis was over, and the message came through loud and clear to the crowd of 38,009: Kawakami was nearly invincible.

"We have to make better adjustments to pitching," Hillman said. "That's one thing we have to improve. Kawakami threw a good game, but we have to adjust better."

After the Fighters' two-run third, Kawakami retired nine of the next 10 batters, handing out four strikeouts during the stretch.

Shinjo's sixth-inning double, punctuated by a showy slide that befit the Fighters' master of sports entertainment, was all the Pacific League champions could muster.

"It was a tough game for me, but I had some confidence after we regained the lead," Kawakami said.

The third inning was Nippon Ham's second chance to get under Kawakami's skin, but the Fighters couldn't take advantage of an opportunity in the first inning when Kawakami threw 26 pitches.

In the first, Tanaka reached on a bunt single and Ogasawara drew a walk with one out, but Seguignol whiffed and Atsunori Inaba killed the inning with a fielder's choice that third baseman Morino fielded to force out Tanaka.

Inaba singled in the eighth with two outs, but Shinjo hit a deep grounder to Hirokazu Ibata, and the shortstop turned and burned Inaba, making an excellent throw to force out the lead runner at second base.

Kawakami got his insurance run in the bottom of the eighth when Ochoa doubled off the left-field wall off reliever Hisashi Takeda, bringing home Hidenori Kuramoto, a pinch-runner for Woods.

Iwase retired the side in order in the ninth to earn a save.

Woods went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks, and Morino went 2-for-3. Inoue was 1-for-2 with two walks, one of which was intentional.

Game 2 of the Japan Series will be played Sunday night at 6:10 p.m. at Nagoya Dome.

The starting pitchers have not been announced, but the Dragons are expected to start 41-year-old Masahiro Yamamoto, while the Fighters may go with rookie Tomoya Yagi.

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