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Saturday, Sept. 27, 2008
Carp knocking on playoff door
The J. League's Sanfrecce Hiroshima and manager Mihailo Petrovic got the good times rolling in Hiroshima by leading the second-division club to a promotion-clinching win on Tuesday.
If Hiroshima Carp manager Marty Brown and his team can follow suit with a few big wins of their own, they'll party like it's 1991 in Hiroshima Stadium's final season.
Brown has the Carp on the cusp of a Climax Series berth this year, a welcome change for a franchise that hasn't played postseason in over a decade.
Hiroshima's last foray into the postseason was in '91, when manager Koji Yamamoto guided the team to the Central League title with a 74-56-2 record. The Carp finished three games ahead of Senichi Hoshino's Chunichi Dragons that season for the right to play in the Japan Series.
Prior to last season the team that won the CL pennant automatically advanced to the Japan Series.
This season the Dragons, now managed by Hiromitsu Ochiai, are again the team standing in the way of the Carp's postseason aspirations.
The two teams, who do not meet for the remainder of the season, are locked in a tight battle for the third and final playoff spot in the CL.
The Carp handed the Yomiuri Giants their first loss in 13 games on Wednesday behind homers from Kenta Kurihara and Scott Seabol to pull even with the Dragons in the standings with nine games to play.
Kurihara has helped spark the Hiroshima resurgence this season, batting .325 with 20 home runs and 97 RBIs. Backing him up are Akihiro Higashide, who is fifth in the CL with a .324 batting average and has 31 RBIs, and Alex Ochoa (.299, 14 home runs and 72 RBIs) among others.
On the mound offseason acquisition Colby Lewis has been one of Japanese baseball's top pitchers, going 14-7 and leading the CL in ERA (2.45) and strikeouts (166).
Brown has also coaxed decent seasons out of 39-year-old Ken Takahashi (8-5, 3.20) and youngster Kenta Maeda (7-2, 3.52), while closer Katsuhiro Nagakawa has gotten the job done, converting a career-high 36 saves.
The Carp have the schedule on their side with eight of their nine remaining games coming against the lowly Yokohama BayStars and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
The Dragons have five games left against the CL's bottom two teams, but also have the front-running Hanshin Tigers and red-hot Yomiuri Giants a combined four times with three of those games on the road.
The schedule-makers say the Carp's season will end on Oct. 6. But if Brown and his charges can emulate Petrovic and company, they'll be playing baseball well past that day in Hiroshima this season.
Going . . . Going . . . Gone: Yomiuri Giants sluggers Michihiro Ogasawara and Alex Ramirez are on their way to going down as one of the most prolific power-hitting duos in Japanese baseball history.
The pair homered in the same game for the 14th time this season in Yomiuri's 9-1 win over the Hiroshima Carp on Monday. That ties them for third all-time in Japanese baseball history.
Hanshin's Randy Bass and "Mr. Tigers" Masayuki Kakefu hold the record, having gone deep together 16 times in 1985.
"Guts" and "Big Daddy" are getting the job done when the ball stays in play as well with Ogasawara hitting at a .314 clip and Ramirez batting .308 for the second-place Giants.
Yomiuri cashed in when the duo leaves the park, going 14-0 when the pair homers in the same game.
Through Thursday, Ogasawara, who has 33 homers, and Ramirez (41) have combined to hit 74 home runs this season, the same amount the entire Tokyo Yakult Swallows team has hit this year.
Big win: Tohoku Rakuten pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma tamed the Seibu Lions on Monday to reach 20 wins for the first time in his career.
"I'm very happy," Iwakuma said. "I have been just working for the team. But the last two years I couldn't contribute to the team so I wanted to make up for those two years."
Iwakuma, having a career season with a 20-3 record and 1.84 ERA, struck out four over seven innings to become the PL's third 20-game winner since 1985.
"It was an unusual atmosphere before the game because there were a lot of TV cameras," Iwakuma told reporters. "But I never wanted to lose this game."
Should Iwakuma maintain his current pace, he would become only the second pitcher since 1978 to win 20 games with an ERA below 2.00.
Former Yomiuri Giants great Masaki Saito achieved the feat in 1989, going 20-7 with a 1.62 ERA in 30 games for the Kyojin.