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Thursday, July 31, 2008

NPB NOTEBOOK

Ogasawara, Ramirez form devastating duo for second-place Giants


Staff writer

When things looked bleak for the Yomiuri Giants earlier this season, Alex Ramirez almost single-handedly kept the Kyojin afloat.

News photo
Giant contribution: Michihiro Ogasawara has stepped up his play in July and was batting .280 with 20 home runs through Tuesday's games. KYODO PHOTO

Now that third baseman Michihiro Ogasawara is backing him up, the Giants might at least make the race for the Central League pennant interesting.

Ogasawara entered July with 12 home runs, a .253 batting average and a bum leg. The leg may not be much better but "Guts" Ogasawara has battled through the injury to hit eight homers this month and raise his average to .280.

Ogasawara and Ramirez have been on fire this month, forming a dynamic duo whose bats have kept the Giants within shouting distance of the surging first-place Hanshin Tigers, whom Yomiuri trails by 9 1/2 games, in the CL standings.

Both homered on Tuesday in the Giants' 6-2 win over the Hiroshima Carp. It was the seventh time this season they've hit home runs in the same contest. Yomiuri is 7-0 in those games.

Currently Ogasawara has 20 home runs and 53 RBIs. Ramirez meanwhile is batting .322 with 30 homers and 85 RBIs. Their 50 combined home runs puts them ahead of the team totals for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (47) Tokyo Yakult Swallows (49) and Hanshin (49).

"It's fun to have someone like Ogasawara hit in front of you," Ramirez said. "He's a good hitter and he has proven that he is one of the best hitters here in Japan. It's just a good feeling to have him here."

Ogasawara's resurgence has had a domino effect on the rest of the team, which is playing much better recently, has gone 16-8 this month and is the first team to cut Hanshin's CL lead to singe digits since the Chunichi Dragons were 9 1/2 out on July 4.

"We've been putting everything together," Ramirez said. "Now the pitching staff is doing pretty good. The relievers, they just come and shut the doors. We have a team that is going to produce and we're doing it lately.

"The team is battling, especially late in the game. That's one of the reasons why we've been doing better."

Kroon gives back: Many children look up to baseball players as role models and heroes. For one young Giants fan the big No. 42 on the back of her shirt lets everyone know who she's cheering for.

The young girl is a fan of closer Marc Kroon, who recently decided to do something nice for one of his biggest fans.

"She actually made me some candy," Kroon said. "The candy was a picture of my face. It's actually real candy but it's a picture of me with my braids and stuff like that. I thought that was really nice of her."

Kroon usually has no trouble spotting the girl, who he says is usually decked out in the aforementioned Giants jersey.

"She has a No. 42 jersey, but it's just a Giants jersey," Kroon said. "Her mom sewed on the No. 42. They may not be able to afford a real one because they are quite expensive."

Because he was appreciative of the young girl's support, the All-Star closer came up with an idea to express his thanks.

"She's given me quite a few presents, she's always very nice to me, she always says hi to me, so I wanted to do something nice for her," Kroon said.

"So I bought her a real jersey and signed a Giabbit doll for her. Actually, that's a Giabbit doll I got after a save. When I get a save in Tokyo Dome they give me a Giabbit doll, it has 42 on the back, I signed that and I gave her my headband.

"She was happy," he said. "She's a nice girl."

Record watch: While Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki batted his way into history (getting the 3,000th hit of his professional career) on Tuesday in Texas, Chunichi Dragons pitcher Masa Yamamoto is on the doorstep of a milestone himself.

The 42-year-old hurler shut down baseball's best team, the Hanshin Tigers, on Sunday in the Dragons' 6-4 victory to move within one win of his 200th career victory.

Yamamoto is 6-3 with a 3.18 ERA in 13 starts for Chunichi and has won his last three decisions.

Don't leave early: If nothing else, the Hiroshima Carp know how to put on a good show.

Alex Ochoa gave the home crowd something to cheer about on Saturday in Hiroshima with a walk-off two-run home run in a 4-2 win over the Yokohama BayStars.

Ochoa was at it again the next night, matching Yokohama's Shuichi Murata's three-run homer in the top of the eighth with a three-run jack of his own to tie the game at 4-4 in the bottom half of the inning.

The glory on Sunday belong to Scott Seabol, however, who sent the Carp faithful into hysterics with a walk-off grand slam, a career first, to give Hiroshima an 8-4 win and its second sayonara victory in as many days.

"This has been a frustrating season for me but I'm happy to be able to contribute to the team's win," Seabol was quoted as saying. "I want to make today's performance a turning point of the season."

Maine has mild strain

MIAMI (AP) New York Mets pitcher John Maine was diagnosed Tuesday with a mild strain in his right rotator cuff, and he may be able to make his next scheduled start Sunday at Houston.

Maine came out of Monday night's game at Florida after 4 1/3 innings because of pain in the back of his pitching shoulder, and returned to New York for an MRI exam Tuesday.

"I'm very happy with the prognosis," Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen said. "That's as good a prognosis as you can have. The doc said he's good to go Sunday."

Warthen said Maine will throw on the side Wednesday.



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