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Monday, Oct. 23, 2006

Hammies rally in pivotal 7th inning

Kaneko clubs clutch 2-run single; Hillman's club ties series

Staff writer

NAGOYA -- Makoto Kaneko had found a new way to make an out in every Japan Series at-bat heading into the seventh inning of Game 2.

News photo
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters baserunner Tsuyoshi Shinjo slides home safely to score the go-ahead run on a two-run single by Makoto Kaneko in the seventh inning on Sunday at Nagoya Dome in Game 2 of the Japan Series. The Fighters won 5-2 to tie the series at one game apiece. KYODO PHOTO

Then the shortstop figured out a new trick, how to pull the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters back into the Series.

Kaneko hit a two-run single off Masahiro Yamamoto, sending the 41-year-old to a loss as the Fighters beat the Chunichi Dragons 5-2 Sunday in front of 38,095 fans, sending the Japan Series to Sapporo Dome tied 1-1.

First baseman Fernando Seguignol was 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs, and rookie starter Tomoya Yagi (1-0) allowed two runs in six innings for Nippon Ham.

"You don't want to go home down 2-0," Fighters manager Trey Hillman said. "It was a big game for us, and our players reacted well after last night's loss."

With the series all squared, the Fighters are hoping to give their fans another taste of what they had last week in the second-stage Pacific League playoffs: a home sweep.

"It's a great feeling to tie the series," Kaneko said. "We'll take it one game at a time, one pitch at a time, but all the players will do our best to win the Japan Series in Sapporo."

Kaneko had been 0-for-6 in the Series, and with runners on second and third with two outs in the top of the seventh, he probably would have been the last batter Yamamoto faced in sealing up a solid pitching effort.

The same held true, but after Kaneko's rip up the middle, the lefty was heading to the showers with a loss instead of a win.

"Our team had been frustrated," Kaneko said. "I wanted to break that feeling and make the most of the chance."

The Fighters looked sluggish on offense, largely because Yamamoto and his quirky delivery kept the PL champions from finding any rhythm.

Yamamoto retired 15 of 16 batters from the second inning through the first out of the seventh, a Tsuyoshi Shinjo single the only scorecard blemish during the stretch.

Yagi had all of the control Yu Darvish lacked the night before, but Yamamoto looked unstoppable for much of the game.

And when the Fighters finally began their breakthrough, it wasn't even Yamamoto's fault.

Atsunori Inaba tapped a swinging bunt up the third-base line, and Chunichi catcher Motonobu Tanishige got a glove on it, but he made a bad throw to get Inaba at first.

First baseman Tyrone Woods couldn't handle the poor pass, and Tanishige was charged with the error.

Shinjo followed with his second hit of the night, a liner to right field that just dropped.

The next batter was catcher Shinya Tsuruoka, who struck out, but protected the runner on strike three, giving Shinjo the cover to steal second.

Chunichi manager Hiromitsu Ochiai came out to talk things over with his pitcher as Kaneko stepped to the plate, but it wound up being a decision to regret.

The shortstop worked ahead in the count, and facing Yamamoto at 2-1, he sent a shot into center. Inaba scored easily, and Shinjo slid bottom-first and belly-up for the pivotal third run.

Masafumi Hirai struck out Shinji Takahashi, a pinch-hitter for Yagi, to get out of the seventh.

Hillman pulled Yagi once Nippon Ham took the lead, and Hisashi Takeda came on in relief, giving Fighters fans a bit of a scare before buckling down.

Yagi gave up two runs, both earned, in six innings, walking one and striking out three. Chunichi managed four hits against Yagi.

Takeda, who had allowed a run late in Game 1's 4-2 loss, gave up a leadoff single to Alex Ochoa, and after Kazuki Inoue popped out on a botched bunt attempt, Tanishige singled again, giving the Dragons runners on first and second with one out.

Hillman stuck with Takeda, however, and after pinch-hitter Kazuyoshi Tatsunami hit into a fielder's choice that forced Inoue out at second, leadoff hitter Masahiro Araki hit the first pitch he saw right back at Takeda, who made the easy throw to Seguignol to close out the frame.

In the eighth, Seguignol ended his postseason power drought, blasting a Shinya Okamoto pitch into the right-center field stands.

Takeda retired the side in order in the eighth, striking out Kosuke Fukudome and Woods to end his night on a high note.

Fighters closer Micheal Nakamura got his first work of the postseason, pitching a perfect ninth inning to close out Game 2.

"Yagi gave us quality work, and our relievers did the job to hold the game for us," Hillman said.

Yamamoto had been riding a one-run lead to what would have been a daunting 2-0 series lead for Chunichi, after solo homers by Hirokazu Ibata and Fukudome in the first and fourth innings, respectively.

Yamamoto gave up three runs in 6 2/3 innings, only one of which was earned. He walked none and scattered five hits, striking out four.

Nippon Ham had taken the lead in the top of the first when Seguignol drove in Hichori Morimoto with a single that Ibata could not quite stop.

Morimoto (2-for-4 with a walk), Shinjo (2-for-3) and Seguignol all had multiple hits for the Fighters.

Tanishige's 2-for-3 night was the most prolific for Chunichi.

Games 3-5 will be played at Sapporo Dome. Monday is a travel day.

Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday at 6:10 p.m.

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