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Fighters hold off Lions to tie series

by Kaz Nagatsuka

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — Like on the previous day, the Fighters got on board early. This time, Seibu rallied, but the experienced and ingenious defending Pacific League champions remained unruffled and uncannily added insurance runs late.

Hokkaido Nippon Ham starting southpaw Masaru Takeda showed off discreet work behind his teammates’ timely run support as they sank the Lions 7-4 in Game 3 of the second stage of the PL Climax Series on Sunday afternoon at Seibu Dome.

“We’ll keep on fighting as if we are still one win behind (the Lions), because they are a team above us,” manager Masataka Nashida said of his Fighters, who are now tied at 2 in the series with Seibu, the No. 1 seed in the PLCS by virtue of its regular-season title.

Both teams started with deceptive left-handed pitchers — Takeda and Kazuyuki Hoashi for the Lions — on the mound. But it was Takeda who did a more tenacious job and received early run support from his colleagues.

With the Fighters up 1-0, Nippon Ham had a big inning when Makoto Kaneko crossed home during a Kensuke Tanaka grounder and left-handed hitter Terrmel Sledge hammered a three-run homer to the opposite field off Hoashi.

“It’s an exciting atmosphere,” said Sledge, who has had seven RBIs with three dingers in the postseason. “It’s about winning. It’s not about individual stats and it makes it more fun doing it.”

Takeda gave up no hits and no runs in the first four innings. But the Lions, who were completely silenced by Yu Darvish in Game 2, finally began a rally in the fifth.

Nakamura scored the first run for Seibu on a Tomoaki Sato grounder to third, and Shogo Akada added another on an RBI double.

But Nashida was quick on making a decision to pull Kazuhito Tadano, who relieved Takeda but walked a batter and hit another with no outs, and sent in reliever Hisashi Takeda.

The right-handed Takeda lived up to his skipper’s expectations and held the Lions hitters in check in two innings of work to stop the home team’s surge.

“I’m gradually getting better,” said Takeda, who fell into a slump after the summer. “Especially in my second inning (today), I felt so good myself.”

Sparked by Hisashi’s sharp work, the Fighters regained momentum again.

In the top of the eighth, center fielder Hichori Morimoto led off with an infield hit off Seibu reliever Koji Onuma.

Two batters later, second baseman Kensuke Tanaka smacked the first pitch off Koji Mitsui, who had just replaced Onuma, over center fielder Akada for a triple to drive home Morimoto.

“That situation, we were being charged (by the Lions) and I wanted to do something,” Tanaka said.

The Fighters did one more piece of damage in the top of the ninth as pinch hitter Takayuki Takaguchi dropped a squeeze bunt off Lions closer Alex Graman and first baseman Shinji Takahashi scored the seventh run.

Nashida sent in closer Micheal Nakamura in the bottom half, and Akada drove in a run on an RBI hit. But it was only a drop in the bucket.

Starter Takeda gave up just three hits and two runs (one earned) in five innings of work, while Hoashi yielded five hits and five runs (four earned) over five frames.

“I couldn’t get any momentum going for the team, and made the flow worse instead,” Hoashi said.