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Fighters sweep Orix

Fujii shines to send Nippon Ham to second stage

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OSAKA — Orix Buffaloes manager Daijiro Oishi jokingly mentioned that he’d eaten ham for breakfast before Game 2 of the Pacific League Climax Series.

Ironically, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters had his Buffaloes for lunch.

Shugo Fujii tossed one of his best games of the season and Tomochika Tsuboi led a 13-hit attack as the Fighters routed the Buffaloes 7-2 to advance to the second stage of the Pacific League Climax Series on Sunday at Kyocera Dome.

“Fujii did a really good job pitching for us today, and Tsuboi carried our offense with four hits,” Fighters manager Masataka Nashida said. “That was a big factor in today’s game.”

Fujii allowed a run on three hits and walked two in a strong six-plus innings. He struck out only one but got a big assist from Nippon Ham’s strong defensive effort behind him.

“I was a little nervous at first but, once the game started and I got onto a rhythm, I was OK,” Fujii said. “I appreciate our manager choosing me for the honor to start today’s game and am happy I could come through and we could end the series today.”

At the plate, Tsuboi and the offense gave him all the run support he needed. Tsuboi led the way going 4-for-4 with an RBI, Jason Botts hit a two-run homer and Makoto Kaneko also drove in a pair of runs.

“Since he (Tsuboi) pinch-hit yesterday, he’s been in good shape so I thought I had to go with him today,” Nashida said. “It was correct to use him.”

Nippon Ham’s big day came against Satoshi Komatsu, the Buffs’ best pitcher during the regular season. Komatsu, who was 15-3 this year, allowed three runs — two earned — on eight hits and struck out two in six innings to lose for the first time since July 21.

The Orix starter recorded two quick outs to start the second inning but the Fighters rallied to load the bases on a single, double and a walk. Kaneko then drove in a pair of runs on a bloop single that landed on the edge of the infield grass after Ikki Shimamura, rushing in from his spot at second, failed to make the catch.

Orix’s Tuffy Rhodes singled up the middle during the fourth to drive in a run and cut the lead in half.

The Fighters loaded the bases in the fifth and scored a run when shortstop Mitsutaka Goto and outfielder Osamu Hamanaka collided while trying to catch a flyball off the bat of Shinji Takahashi

Nippon Ham went ahead 4-1 on Eiichi Koyano’s one-out RBI single in the seventh. They extended the lead later in the inning on an RBI double from Tsuboi and Botts’ two-run shot.

Alex Cabrera collected his second RBI of the series in the eighth with a deep sacrifice fly which made the score 7-2.

The Fighters now move on to face the league-champion Seibu Lions in the second stage for the right to play in the Japan Series.

“Darvish gave us a good start,” Kaneko said, referring to pitcher Yu Darvish’s Game 1 win. “So we were able to play this game without any pressure.”

Nippon Ham had a rough time against the Lions, going 9-13 against the Saitama club this season. The Fighters, however, managed to win five of the teams’ final seven meetings.

“They are a strong team,” Kaneko said. “But we’ll be prepared.”