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Marines rough up Matsuzaka; Lions fail to grab No. 1 seed

by Stephen Ellsesser

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. At least Daisuke Matsuzaka has the playoffs.

News photo Seibu Lions starter Daisuke Matsuzaka looks disappointed after allowing a
leadoff run to the Lotte
Marines in the third inning Tuesday at Invoice Seibu Dome. The Marines won
6-2.
KYODO PHOTO

Making what is certain to be his final regular-season start at Invoice Seibu Dome, Matsuzaka came out blazing but looked lost by the third inning as the Chiba Lotte Marines roughed up the Seibu Lions and their ace in a 6-2 win Tuesday.

Kazuya Fukuura put Lotte ahead with a two-run single, and Hiroyuki Kobayashi outdueled the soon-to-be-posted Matsuzaka, again making a 10-game winner of Kobayashi.

A Lions victory and a Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters loss would have sealed up the Pacific League’s No. 1 seed for Seibu, giving it a first-round bye and home-field advantage for the PL Stage 2 Playoffs, but neither happened.

The Fighters beat the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 8-0 Tuesday in Sapporo, and the 2005 Japan Series champions backed Kobayashi (10-7), giving him more than enough run support.

“It is an important game, and we like playing important games at the end of the year,” Marines manager Bobby Valentine said. “It’s just too bad we’re not the ones going to the playoffs, but these guys still have a lot of pride.”

Final playoff positions should be determined Wednesday. If Nippon Ham wins or ties, it will earn the No. 1 seed. If the Lions win and the Fighters lose, they will take the top spot.

Kobayashi struck out four and lasted 7 1/3 innings, coming out after Yoshohito Ishii’s RBI single in the eighth cut the lead to four runs and left two on the bases. Yoshihito Kanda walked Alex Cabrera to load the bases in the eighth, and Kazuhiro Wada grounded into an inning-ending double play.

“He’s pitched very well,” Valentine said of Kobayashi. “He missed that first month and you can’t get that back, but when he’s been with us, he’s been one of our best.”

Matsuzaka’s jam was much stickier, although it could have gotten uglier.

Toshiaki Imae led off the frame with a single to right field, becoming the second Marine to get the ball out of the infield.

Imae was erased when Matsuzaka forced him out at second base on a Naotaka Takehara bunt, and after Akira Otsuka was hit by a pitch and Tsuyoshi Nishioka singled up the middle, Matsuzaka was facing bases loaded with one out.

Matsuzaka fanned Hisao Heiuchi, the last of the hurler’s three strikeouts, before Fukuura singled to left, giving Lotte the lead.

Cleanup hitter Tomoya Satozaki walked to reload the bases, setting up Benny Agbayani to drive in a run when he was walked.

The Marines sent 10 batters to the plate in the third, winding up with four runs to show for their four hits, two walks and a hit batsman.

Not bad against the right-hander who has had major-league clubs from coast to coast racking up expense accounts with scouting trips to Japan.

Matsuzaka gave up another pair of runs in the fifth and was replaced after getting out of that inning. In five innings, he allowed six earned runs, seven hits and two walks while striking out three, well below his average. Still more curious were the pair of hit batsmen.

The plunk of Otsuka in the third hit the outfielder hard in the shoulder, bringing Valentine and a trainer out of the dugout.

Matsuzaka tipped his hat in apology, standing pat until Otsuka had reached first base and appeared to be OK.

In the fifth, Matsuzaka struck again, hitting Satozaki. The catcher later scored.

The hit batters were probably the best singular summation of why the “Monster of the Heisei Era” wasn’t so monstrous.

“His control (was the difference),” Valentine said. “He didn’t have good control today.”

Ishii drove in both of Seibu’s runs. Shogo Akada went 3-for-4, while Hiroyuki Nakajima and Kazuki Fukuchi also had multiple hits. Wednesday is the final day of the regular season, barring makeup games. Lotte will wrap up the series with Shunsuke Watanabe making the start, while Seibu will try to rebound with Fumiya Nishiguchi on the hill.

PACIFIC LEAGUE

SAPPORO (Kyodo) Rookie left-hander Tomoya Yagi held Fukuoka Softbank to three hits over seven shutout innings Tuesday in an 8-0 victory as Hokkaido Nippon Ham snapped a two-game skid and went atop the standings with a chance of clinching first place in the regular season with a win or tie against rival Softbank on Wednesday.

Buffaloes 4, Eagles 1

At Kobe’s Skymark Stadium, Hidetaka Kawagoe pitched one-run ball over 7 2/3 strong innings, leading Orix over Tohoku Rakuten.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Dragons 5, BayStars 4 (10)

At Nagoya Dome, Kosuke Fukudome doubled in the winning run in the 10th as Chunichi edged visting Yokohama to cut the magic number for its second Central League title in three years to 11.

Tigers 3, Carp 2

At Koshien Stadium, Andy Sheets opened the scoring with a first-inning RBI double and starter Yuya Ando pitched one-run ball over six innings as Hanshin beat division foe Hiroshima to extend its winning streak to six games.

Giants at Swallows — ppd.