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Thursday, Oct. 26, 2006

Hammies 1 win away

Staff writer

SAPPORO -- The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters are a game away from Japan Series glory.

News photo
Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter throws a pitch in Game 3 of the World Series on Tuesday in St. Louis. Carpenter tossed eight scoreless innings in St. Louis' 5-0 win over the Detroit Tigers. AP PHOTO

Riding five shutout innings in Satoru Kanemura's return to the Pacific League champions and Atsunori Inaba's two-run double, the Fighters beat the Chunichi Dragons 3-1 Wednesday night at Sapporo Dome in Game 4 of the Japan Series, taking a 3-1 advantage lead.

Game 5 will be played Thursday at Sapporo Dome, and the Hammies will be looking to wrap up their championship at home.

"Tomorrow, in front of these great fans, we would like to win the championship," an emotional Kanemura said. "I will be cheering right along with the fans tomorrow.

"I have been waiting 12 years since joining this team for a championship.

Kanemura (1-0), who was removed from the Fighters' active roster on Sept. 25 after criticizing manager Trey Hillman, was not spectacular after a month off, but in five innings, he gave up no runs.

Kanemura, who was on the mound during the regular-season game at Chiba Lotte, was pulled in the fifth inning with the bases loaded. Kanemura was angry because it would cost him a chance to post double-digit wins, but the Fighters ultimately lost the game.

Hillman forgave Kanemura, acknowledging the situation publicly, but the pitcher was suspended by the team and fined.

Judging by all parties' responses, the reunion was a success.

"Kane did a great job," Hillman said. "I am proud for him, I know his teammates are proud for him, and I know these fans are proud for him."

Kanemura made amends during the hero interview as the crowd of 41,835 trickled out.

"First of al, I would like to apologize to fans at Sapporo Dome and to professional baseball fans," he said. "I am deeply sorry, but I really appreciate that I received a warm welcome from the fans and from my teammates."

Chunichi had runners in scoring position in three of Kanemura's innings. The right-hander gave up five hits and seven walks. But he never gave up the back-breaker, staying upright as Nippon Ham put a couple runs on the board.

The top of the order came up for the Fighters in the third inning, and Hichori Morimoto continued his productive series, knocking a triple to the gap in right-center.

Nippon Ham's All-Star left fielder scored when Kensuke Tanaka doubled in the next at-bat.

Morimoto, who went 2-for-3 with two walks in Game 4, is now 7-for-15 with three walks and five runs in the Japan Series.

Much of Morimoto's gain has been the result of textbook sacrifice bunting by Tanaka, who had laid down his Japan Series-record sixth successful sac bunt to advance Morimoto in the first inning.

It was the only run Nippon Ham scored against rookie Kenichi Nakata (0-1), who took the loss having allowed a run, three hits and two walks in four innings.

Succeeded by Yuya Ishii in the fifth, Nakata's redemption was plunged deeper underwater when Inaba doubled in Michihiro Ogasawara and Fernando Seguignol.

Ogasawara, who had walked and been hit by a pitch in his first two plate appearances, had doubled earlier in the inning, and Seguignol walked.

Then the Panamanian ran, scoring all the way from first on Inaba's strike to left-center field.

It was icing on the cake for Nippon Ham's bullpen, which lived by bend-but-don't-break rules in Game 4.

The Dragons stranded runners all night, leaving the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh innings.

Nippon Ham's bullpen managed to hold the shutout, however, as four pitchers combined for the final four scoreless innings of ball.

Brad Thomas and Yoshinori Tateyama saw their first action of the postseason, and Chunichi came close to taking advantage of the duo.

Thomas began the sixth inning for the Fighters, and three batters later he was pulled with one out after Tyrone Woods' leadoff double and Masahiko Morino's walk gave the Dragons men on base.

Tateyama retired two of the next three batters and made it out of the sixth, plunking Motonobu Tanishige to lead the bases in between Yoshinori Ueda's flyout to center field and Kazuki Inoue's strikeout.

But Tateyama showed his vulnerability a frame later, walking Masahiro Araki to lead off the seventh and giving up a basehit to Hirokazu Ibata.

Then it was Hideki Okajima's turn. Okajima got Nippon Ham out of the seventh and retired the side in order in the eighth, paving the way to closer Micheal Nakamura.

"The bullpen did a great job," Hillman said. "It got us out of some jams."

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