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Timely hitting helps Swallows tame Lions

by Kaz Nagatsuka

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — Against the Pacific League leader’s gorgeous offensive lineup, a group whose big bats usually score a lot of runs, there was no way the Tokyo Yakult Swallows could’ve countered with the same force.

But the Swallows were still able to come up with just enough runs to finish the game with more points than their opponents.

Outfielder Kazuki Fukuchi, catcher Atsushi Kinugawa and designated hitter Kazuhiro Hatakeyama stepped up for Yakult, leading the Central League side to a 5-4 victory over the Saitama Seibu Lions in their first interleague game at Seibu Dome on Wednesday.

“We played good today,” Swallows manager Shigeru Takada said after the game. “We can’t score many at a time, though. But it’s meaningless to talk about what we don’t have.”

Fukuchi, who joined Tokyo Yakult this season as a compensation pick for Kazuhisa Ishii, the game’s starter for Seibu, had a remarkable game by going 3-for-5, while Kinugawa went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and Hatakeyama was 1-for-3 with two RBIs.

“I’ve been fortunately given a chance to play,” said Kinugawa, normally a backup catcher behind Masakazu Fukukawa. “So I was going to go aggressively anyway. I’m going to continue to go aggressively from now on as well.”

Many in the crowd were paying attention to Ishii, who left the Swallows to join the Lions through free agency before this season.

The slippery southpaw got off to a rocky start, however, as he loaded the bases on the game’s first three pitches, giving up two hits and hitting a batter in the top of the first.

Yakult got on the board quickly, scoring two runs on a double by Hatakeyama and an Aaron Guiel sacrifice fly.

Ishii left the mound after five innings, his shortest outing of the season, yielding four runs and eight hits and fanning three.

“I wasn’t very bad,” said the 35-year-old Ishii, who played for the Swallows for a total of 12 seasons. “But I went too loose at critical occasions and came up with this outcome.”

Takada said jokingly : “If we were beaten by Ishii, he was going to say whatever he wanted to. . . .But he’s been on a roll this year.”

The Lions, meanwhile, gave the Swallows a little hint as to why they have the best record in the NPB with just one long ball before a crowd of 15,683.

Trailing 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth, Craig Brazell literally smacked Daniel Rios’ fastball into the right field stands for a no-doubt-about-it three run homer to equal the game at 4-4.

But the Swallows’ tenacity was even bigger this day.

In the top of the sixth, Kinugawa drove home Shinya Miyamoto for the go-ahead run.

Tigers defeat Buffs

KOBE (Kyodo) Keiichi Hirano hit a bases-clearing triple and Takahiro Arai followed with a two-run homer as the Hanshin Tigers beat the Orix Buffaloes 7-3 in interleague play on Wednesday.

Orix manager Terry Collins announced his resignation following the game.

Fighters 4, BayStars 3

At Sapporo Dome, pinch-hitter Shinji Takahashi drove in the go-ahead run with a bases-loaded groundout
in a two-run eighth inning as Hokkaido Nippon Ham edged Yokohama to win its third game in a row.

Dragons 3, Eagles 1

At Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium, Tyrone Woods homered and veteran lefty Masahiro Yamamoto won his third
straight start, lifting Chunichi over Tohoku Rakuten.

Hawks 9, Carp 4

At Fukuoka’s Yahoo Dome, Hiroki Kokubo delivered a tiebreaking single in the seventh inning.

Giants 8, Marines 5

At Chiba Marine Stadium, CL home run leader Alex Ramirez homered twice.