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Nishioka scores winning run on Imae’s ‘sayonara’ sac fly

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CHIBA — A stiff neck kept Tsuyoshi Nishioka from starting in the Chiba Lotte Marines’ game against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.

He was pretty limber by the end of the game.

Toshiaki Imae hit a “sayonara” sacrifice fly as Nishioka evaded the tag at the plate, giving the Marines a 4-3 victory on Saturday at Chiba Marine Stadium.

“He had a stiff neck and couldn’t play, but he was able to run,” Marines manager Bobby Valentine said. “Luckily we were able to use all of our resources to get a win.

“I didn’t know that he (Nishioka) could play defense and I wasn’t going to put him in unless I knew there was going to be a chance that I really needed his speed.”

Jose Ortiz hit a leadoff single up the middle in the ninth inning. The next batter, Shoitsu Omatsu, also singled up the middle to move pinch runner Nishioka to third.

Imae followed with a fly ball to right which Aaron Guiel handled easily before making the throw home. Guiel’s throw was on target but Nishioka was able to evade catcher Masakazu Fukukawa’s tag to score the winning run.

“I thought Nishioka would be able to make it home before the throw,” said Imae, who like everyone in attendance was in limbo until the home plate umpire’s belated safe call.

It was a refreshing victory for the Marines, who snapped a four-game losing streak. Lotte has been mired in a dismal slump this month, having lost seven of its last nine and going 5-14 since May 1.

“It’s great to win,” Valentine said. “There were a lot of great things that happened tonight. There were a lot of good things to build on. The bullpen was great, (Shunsuke) Watanabe was very good except for one inning and we had some really hard hit balls.”

Reliever Tadahiro Ogino (2-3) earned the win after striking out two in a perfect ninth. Yakult reliever Lim Chang Yong (1-1) was charged with his first loss of the season, a day after earning his first win of the year, after giving up the winning run.

Watanabe (3-3), who started the game, breezed through the the first four innings, allowing just two baserunners, until the Swallows roughed him up in the fifth. The submarine hurler left without a decision after allowing all three runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings.

He was relieved in the seventh by Yusuke Kawasaki, who struck out two and retired all five batters he faced.

“I thought Kawasaki pitched extremely well,” Valentine said. “He really did stop their momentum. It was just the kind of performance we need out of him. He’s a good pitcher.”

After being shut out for 12 innings in the first game of the series on Friday, the Marines jumped out to a 1-0 lead on an RBI single by Kazuya Fukuura in the first.

Lotte extended the lead to 3-0 after Takumi Kobe homered in the second and Omatsu hit his team-leading seventh home run on the season in the fourth.

“It was a high fastball that I hit,” Kobe said after his first homer of 2008. “I’m happy I was able to get that hit.”

Facing a three-run deficit in fifth, Kazuki Fukuchi, Shingo Kawabata and Yuichi Matsumoto produced consecutive RBI singles off Watanabe to tie the game.

The Marines, who picked up their first win in interleague play, move on to face the Hiroshima Carp in Hiroshima on Sunday. The Swallows, meanwhile, will continue their interleague campaign at home in Jingu Stadium against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Lions defeat Giants

TOKOROZAWA , Saitama Pref. (Kyodo) Takahiko G.G. Sato, Yoshihito Ishii and Hiroyuki Nakajima each hit solo homers Saturday as the Seibu Lions beat the Yomiuri Giants 4-2 for their third win in a row.

Sato, who went 3-for-3 in the afternoon, hit his Pacific League-leading 15th home run, his fourth in three games, to break a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning and Ishii followed with a shot of his own in interleague play at Seibu Dome.

Nakajima also connected off Takahiko Nomaguchi (1-2) an inning later to make it 4-1.

Kazuyuki Hoashi (5-0) held Yomiuri to two runs, one earned, on eight hits in 7 1/3 innings. Alex Graman pitched the ninth for his 10th save.

Carp 4, Buffaloes 3

At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Alex Ochoa hit a two-run homer and Colby Lewis threw eight-plus effective innings as Hiroshima handed Orix its third straight loss.

The Carp went ahead 3-0 on a Kenta Kurihara RBI single in the first inning and Ochoa’s shot to right-center off Shogo Yamamoto (4-1) in the sixth. Lewis (6-4) allowed three runs and six hits with no walks.

Eagles 2, BayStars 1

At Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium, Domingo Guzman limited the damage to one run over seven innings to win his first decision in nearly a month in Tohoku Rakuten’s win over Yokohama.

Guzman (2-2) yielded five hits, struck out three and walked three, helping to condemn slumping the BayStars to their second five-game losing streak. Yasuhiro Oyamada (1-2) took the loss.

Tigers 5, Hawks 2

At Fukuoka’s Yahoo Dome, Norihiro Akahoshi delivered a two-run bases-loaded single to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead in a four-run ninth inning as Central League leader Hanshin beat Softbank en route to winning its 30th game this season.

After Akahoshi’s hit to left off reliever D.J. Houlton (1-2), Takahiro Arai cushioned the lead with a two-run single. Jeff Williams (1-2) pitched a scoreless eighth and Kyuji Fujikawa struck three in the ninth for his 17th save.

Nobuhiro Matsuda put the Hawks in front 2-1 with his solo homer in the sixth.

Fighters 11, Dragons 1

At Sapporo Dome, Brian Sweeney (4-1) pitched one-run ball over seven innings and got plenty of run support as Hokkaido Nippon Ham banged out a season-high 20 hits in a rout of Chunichi at Sapporo Dome.

Shinji Takahashi keyed a three-run first with a two-run home run and Eiichi Koyano, who went 2-for-3 with four RBIs, had a two-run triple as Nippon Ham extended the lead to 6-1 in the fourth.