Emergency starter Sweeney gives Fighters big lift in win over Lotte


CHIBA — The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters suffered a big loss before their game against the Chiba Lotte Marines on Tuesday. Hichori Morimoto and Brian Sweeney made sure they celebrated a big win after it.

Morimoto drove in the go-ahead run in the third and the game winner in the ninth, and emergency starter Sweeney had a gutsy performance as the Fighters defeated the Marines 3-2 on Showa Day at Chiba Marine Stadium.

The Nippon Ham leadoff man went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in the victory.

Sweeney (2-1), who started in place of an injured Masaru Takeda, threw six scoreless innings to outpitch Yoshihisa Naruse and help the Fighters snap a three-game losing streak. Sweeney scattered five hits and struck out three to lower his ERA to 2.25 but did not factor into the decision.

“Everybody was happy that we won the game,” Sweeney said. “I went out there to help win this game and everyone was behind me.”

Takeda was hit by a batted ball while running in the outfield before the game, a freak accident that resulted in a fractured thumb on his left hand. Sweeney offered to start the game and took the mound on two-hours notice.

“Sometimes accidents happen,” Sweeney said. “That’s a terrible accident. But we’re a family. We take care of each other when something like that happens.

“It’s not hard to get in that mode,” he said of pitching on short notice. “It’s a big game. Every time we pitch against Chiba is a big game. If you can’t get up for it, you don’t need to be on the mound.”

Sweeney found himself in a jam in the fifth after consecutive one-out singles by Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Daisuke Hayakawa left the Marines with runners on the corners.

Kazuya Fukuura followed by flying out in foul territory before Julio Zuleta lined a ball back to the mound that the pitcher initially mishandled. Sweeney kept his composure, however, casually tossing the ball to first to end the threat.

“I took one right here from Zuleta,” Sweeney said pointing to the upper part of his stomach. “I’m glad it hit me square because it dropped straight down.”

Sweeney was in line for the victory until reliever Hisashi Takeda fell apart in the eighth. Fukuura and Zuleta led off the inning with singles before Takeda forced Shoitsu Omatsu to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, with pinch runner Kei Hosoya advancing to third.

Takeda walked the next two batters to load the bases and was pulled when closer Micheal Nakamura entered the game. Nakamura didn’t fare much better as Benny Agbayani tied it with a two-run single to right.

“We didn’t get any timely hits early,” Lotte manager Bobby Valentine said.

“But we did get one late to tie it up.”

Nakamura (1-0) kept the damage to two runs and earned his first win of the season after Morimoto’s clutch hit in the ninth. Marines reliever Brian Sikorski (1-1), who tweaked his hamstring in the ninth, was charged with the loss.

Naruse (3-1) lasted 6 1/3 innings and was relieved by Yoshihiro Ito after being charged with two runs on five hits and striking out three. He didn’t factor into the decision.

“He pitched well,” Valentine said of Naruse. “He just threw a lot of pitches. That’s not really like him.”

Naruse faced little resistance through the game’s first two innings before walking Shinya Tsuruoka to lead off the third. The Nippon Ham catcher advanced to second on a Makoto Kaneko groundout and scored on Morimoto’s double.

Chonso Yo added to Naruse’s woes with a solo shot in the seventh to give the Fighters a 2-0 advantage.

Agbayani’s two-run single tied the game in the eighth. The Fighters scored the go-ahead run in the ninth.

On Wednesday, Lotte submarine hurler Shunsuke Watanabe (3-1) is scheduled to take the hill against Fighters ace Yu Darvish (4-0).