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Fujii returns to Dome for postseason victory

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OSAKA — Shugo Fujii delivered another solid postseason outing in Kyocera Dome.

This time he left with the victory.

Fujii held down a strong Orix Buffaloes lineup on Sunday to lead the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to a 7-2 series-clinching victory in Game 2 of the first stage of the Pacific League Climax Series.

In 2001 Fujii pitched against the Kintetsu Buffaloes at Kyocera Dome, at that time known as simply Osaka Dome, in Game 2 of the Japan Series as a member of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. He threw five solid innings but did not factor into the decision of the Swallows’ loss. Yakult would go on the win the series 4-1.

Fujii left nothing to chance this time, pitching six-plus innings of one-run ball, allowing three hits and striking out one to send the Fighters into a matchup with the league-champion Seibu Lions in the second stage.

“I was a bit nervous, but did my best,” Fujii said. They (Orix) had to hit those fastballs (from Game 1 starter Yu Darvish) yesterday, and fell apart in terms of mechanics a bit. So I could pitch against them relaxed.”

Fujii didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning, retiring the first nine Buffaloes in order on 30 pitches.

He also ran into his first real trouble of the night in the fourth. He walked Ikki Shimamura to lead off the inning then later gave up a run on a Tuffy Rhodes single. He settled down after that, yielding no further runs to pick up the victory.

“For the first couple of innings, my change-ups and such weren’t very good and I thought maybe the game would be difficult for me,” Fujii said. “But I recalled coach (Masato) Yoshii’s advice and threw carefully. Shinji (Takahashi) made me pitch using inside and outside and breaking balls and fastballs, and I was able to trust him. As a result we got the good outcome.”

Fujii proved to be better than his 3-8 record this season would indicate. The lefty, who finished the year with a 3.25 ERA, pitched well at times but didn’t receive enough run support at times.

That likely played into manager Masataka Nashida’s thinking when he named Fujii as his Game 2 starter.

“I felt sorry that I couldn’t contribute to the team,” Fujii said. “But I was named to pitch such a big game like this and I wanted to respond to the team’s expectations.”

Fujii’s outing came on the heels of Yu Darvish’s stellar Game 1 start. His performance also kept the team’s four-game winning streak alive and allows them to enter the second stage with a lot of momentum.

“Our pitchers — Darvish yesterday and Fujii today — responded to the pressure of being the underdog, and they really came through,” said Nashida, who managed the Kintetsu squad Fujii faced in ’01. “I would like to thank our fans for their backing and ask them to be just as supportive in the Stage 2 series against Seibu.”

Darvish gave Fujii a tough act to follow, striking out 14 in a complete-game victory.

“Darvish did a great job pitching for us yesterday, and we played “Zen-nin yakyuu” (where every player contributed to the victory). I was hoping we could do the same today, and that is what happened.”

Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this story