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Friday, Oct. 19, 2012

'Lucky Seven' Itoi carries Fighters to brink of Japan Series

Staff writer

SAPPORO — For the second night in a row, Yoshio Itoi bashed the ball beyond the fences. And with it, the Fighters are one win away from reaching their first Japan Series in three years.

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Postseason heroics: Fighters slugger Yoshio Ioti belts a two-run home run in the seventh inning against the Hawks on Thursday in Game 2 of the Pacific League Climax Series final stage at Sapporo Dome. Hokkaido Nippon Ham earned a 3-0 win over Fukuoka Softbank. KYODO

With Hokkaido Nippon Ham leading 1-0, Itoi launched an insurance two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh as the Fighters sank the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 3-0 in Game 2 of the Pacific League Climax Series final stage on Thursday night at Sapporo Dome.

Having entered the final stage with an automatic one-win advantage, the regular-season champion Fighters are now up 3-0 in the series.

Game 3 will begin at 6 p.m. at the same place. Brian Wolfe takes the mound for the Fighters, while 17-game winner Tadashi Settsu starts for the defending Japan Series champion Hawks.

Behind Itoi's heroics, starting lefty Masaru Takeda had a solid outing as he tossed six scoreless innings. He allowed just three hits and struck out two in 81 pitches.

"I got a run support early on and it helped me give the team a chance to win," Takeda said. "I think I could focus on each batter at a time."

Takeda (1-0), who's the leader of Nippon Ham's pitching corps, earned the win.

Nippon Ham quickly got on the board on an error by the Hawks' Seiichi Uchikawa in the first. Yet it failed to capitalize on multiple scoring opportunities after that.

Itoi changed the gloomy atmosphere in the dome with just one swing. He smacked the first pitch from Hawks left-handed side-armer Masahiko Morifuku to send it into the right-field bleachers.

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No satisfaction: It was a frustrating night for losing pitcher Nagisa Arakaki, the Hawks starter, and his teammates at Sapporo Dome. KYODO

"It was a one-run ball (game) and I was eager to give the team an additional run," said Itoi, who also had a triple that led to a score in the first inning and a walk. "I was going to hit hard from the first pitch, if it was hittable enough."

Itoi belted a seventh-inning two-run dinger in the Fighters' 3-2 win in Wednesday's Game 1. He had another in the same inning on the following day.

"It's truly a 'Lucky Seven,' " the No. 3 hitter joked.

The Hawks had a much-awaited scoring opportunity in the sixth when Nobuhiro Matsuda led off with a double before he proceeded to third on a sacrifice bunt. Matsuda tagged up on a Uchikawa shallow fly ball, but Fighters center fielder Daikan Yoh threw a perfect ball to nail Matsuda at home plate for the third out.

"We were playing a one-run game and got out of it without giving up any runs there, it was huge," Takeda said. "I think it really gave us the chance to win the game today."

Fighters relievers Yuya Ishii and Hirotoshi Masui pitched the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, before closer Hisashi Takeda worked the ninth to end the game.

Hawks starter Nagisa Arakaki (0-1) struggled with his command, although he somehow ended up giving up just one hit and one run before he was pulled from the mound after the third inning. He took the loss.

Wily Mo Pena had two hits for Softbank.

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