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Wakui tosses gem for Lions in opener

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If the Japan Series was supposed to be an offensive showcase, Seibu Lions pitcher Hideaki Wakui sure didn’t get the memo.

Wakui stared down one of Japanese baseball’s best lineups in a hitter-friendly park and tossed an eight-inning gem to lead the Lions to a 2-1 win over the Yomiuri Giants in Game 1 of the Japan Series on Saturday at Tokyo Dome.

“A clash between ace and ace,” Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe said. “Fortunately, our ace was a little bit better tonight.”

The Lions hurler struck out eight and allowed one run — unearned — on one hit to out-duel Yomiuri superstar Koji Uehara.

“I was facing the other team’s ace,” Wakui said. “I knew that, so I had to be at my best, or we would lose for sure.”

Seibu’s ace has rebounded nicely from a subpar regular season, that saw him finish 10-11 with a 3.90 ERA, with a stellar postseason run. In three playoff starts Wakui is 3-0 and has allowed one earned run over his last 23 innings.

“This was my first Japan Series start,” Wakui said. “I hope to make many more with the same result.”

The Giants never got anything going against the young hurler, managing only Alex Ramirez’s RBI double in the fourth inning.

“He pitched a great game,” Ramirez said. “A one-hitter. He was making good pitches.”

Alex Graman allowed a leadoff single in the ninth but tossed a scoreless inning — with some help from a brilliant play by second baseman Yasuyuki Kataoka — to earn the save in his first career Japan Series appearance.

Hiroyuki Nakajima and Taketoshi Goto provided the offense to back Wakui and help the Lions nullify Yomiuri’s home-field advantage.

Nakajima finished 2-for-3 and drove in the go-ahead run with a homer in the sixth, while Goto was 1-for-4 with a home run.

“I thought we were going to win after Nakajima’s home run,” Watanabe said. “That gave us the lead and with the way Wakui was pitching, I thought it might be all we needed.”

Nakajima and Goto each have three home runs in this year’s playoffs.

“I was able to hit relaxed,” Nakajima said. “It was good I could hit a home run that put us ahead.”

Uehara had an almost equally impressive day as his counterpart, but was doomed by a pair of home runs late into his outing.

Uehara got off to a strong start on the mound for Yomiuri. After allowing Kataoka’s leadoff single in the first, Uehara didn’t allow another hit until the fifth inning.

Unfortunately for him the hit he gave up in the fifth was Goto’s game-tying home run. The next hit he allowed was a home run as well, which put the Lions in the lead for good.

Uehara took the loss after allowing two runs on five hits and striking out eight over seven innings.

“His condition was good,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said of Uehara. “Of course he must not be satisfied with himself but his condition was good and he pitched really well.”

The homers came at an opportune time for the Lions, who fell behind in the fourth inning.

Yomiuri center fielder Takahiro Suzuki led off the inning by reaching first on third baseman Takeya Nakamura’s fielding error and went to second on Takuya Kimura’s sacrifice bunt. Ramirez drove in the series’ first run later in the inning with a double to shallow right.

Seibu didn’t stay behind long, tying the score on Goto’s homer to the back screen in center field.

“In the previous at-bat I struck out looking,” Goto said. “So I was determined to get a good swing at the first strike.”

The Lions took a 2-1 lead in the sixth after Nakajima sent a 1-1 fastball over the fence in right-center to end the scoring.

And now the Lions own a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Ramirez said. “We lost a good game today and we have to come back and win tomorrow.”

The teams will meet for Game 2 of the Japan Series on Sunday at Tokyo Dome beginning at 6:15 p.m.

The pitchers are expected to be a pair of left-handers, Kazuyuki Hoashi for Seibu and Yomiuri’s Hisanori Takahashi.