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PACIFIC LEAGUE CLIMAX SERIES

Darvish fires Fighters to win

by Jason Coskrey

SAPPORO — On a day when the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters came up with all the big hits, the Chiba Lotte Marines still couldn’t find an answer for Yu Darvish.

News photoHokkaido Nippon Ham’s Hichori Morimoto rips a two-run double in the second inning against Chiba Lotte on
Saturday afternoon in Game 1 of Stage 2 of the Pacific League Climax Series at Sapporo Dome. The Fighters
won 5-2.
KYODO PHOTO

The Fighters pounded out 15 hits and Darvish threw a complete game as Nippon Ham beat the Marines 5-2 in the first game of the second stage of the Pacific League Climax Series on Saturday afternoon at Sapporo Dome.

The win was a relief for Trey Hillman who worried about the effects the 10-day layoff between the end of the season and Game 1 would have on his team.

“It’s always a concern after that long of a layoff,” Hillman said. “The key was the intrasquad games we played. They were real games rather than intrasquad games. We kept it real enough.”

Hichori Morimoto and Kensuke Tanaka each lined balls into right field that scored two in a four-run second and the defending PL champions also benefited from an RBI triple from Makoto Kaneko.

“I was a little nervous today and tried to hit at least a sacrifice fly,” Morimoto said, referring to his two-run double that sailed over the head of right fielder Saburo Omura.

The Fighters capitalized on Lotte manager Bobby Valentine playing a shallow outfield as they scored most of their runs on balls hit deep.

“We put them in a position where they had to play their outfield shallow,” Hillman said. “They had to shut us down. If I were in Bobby’s position, my outfield would have been just as shallow.”

Darvish wasn’t as overpowering as usual but got in a groove late.

The Nippon Ham ace gave up two runs on four hits through the first 5 2/3 innings before retiring 12 of the final 14 batters he faced. He struck out eight.

“I didn’t know that,” Darvish said of his late-game performance. “I just tried to take it one batter at a time, and my slider was working well. I could also feel the support of 42,222 fans and look forward to pitching again in the Japan Series.”

Tsyuoshi Nishioka continued his excellent postseason with a 2-for-3 day that included a stolen base in the losing effort.

The Marines went through an army of pitchers during the first half of the game.

Starter Yasutomo Kubo lasted just 1 1/3 innings, leaving with runners on second and third in the second and was charged with four runs. Reliever Koji Takagi lasted just two-thirds of an inning and was relieved by Satoru Komiyama who departed after 1 1/3 innings.

“When I think about my performance today, I did not feel comfortable from the first inning,” Kubo said. “I created my own jam and could not work my way out of it.”

Komiyama was lifted in the third for Soichi Fujita who threw 13 pitches before being relieved by Naoyuki Shimizu in the fourth.

Shimizu went the rest of the way and gave up one run on six hits.

“Kubo had fine stuff,” Valentine said. “They just got a couple of nice hits and then that ninth batter (Shinya Tsuruoka) got that infield hit and then I played the outfield too shallow. But Kubo had fine stuff.”

Lotte put its first two batters on in the second before a Shoitsu Omatsu flyball advanced a runner to third. The Marines then took a 1-0 lead on a Benny Agbayani groundout to third that allowed the runner to score.

The Fighters rallied in the bottom half of the inning with Naoto Inada, Tsuruoka and Kaneko each connecting for one-out singles to load the bases for Morimoto.

“We figured if we got the lead we would have no problem with Yu pitching for us,” Morimoto said. “However the Marines scored first, but we were able to come back and take the lead right away and it was our game from then on.”

Lotte put two on to start the third and scored when Kazuya Fukuura grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to cut the lead to 4-2.

“We had first and third, no outs and he (Darvish) got that big double play,” Valentine said. “Otherwise we could’ve been off to the races.”

Nippon Ham pushed the lead back to three in the fifth when a triple from Kaneko allowed Takahito Kudo to score from second.

The Fighters will send left-hander Masaru Takeda (9-4) to the mound Sunday afternoon as they try to take a 2-0 series advantage. He will be opposed by right-hander Hiroyuki Kobayashi.

Game 2 is set for 1 p.m. at Sapporo Dome.