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Lions stay alive, force Game 7

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Turns out these Lions have nine lives after all.

Hiroshi Hirao continued an amazing two-game stretch with four RBIs and pitcher Takayuki Kishi picked up where he left off earlier in the series to help the Seibu Lions stave off elimination with a 4-1 win in Game 6 of the Japan Series on Saturday night in front of 44,749 fans at Tokyo Dome.

“I think it was not only me, but our whole team played relaxed tonight,” Hirao said.

Hirao drove in three runs with a double in the first and hit a solo home run in the fifth to highlight a 3-for-4 night at the plate.

“We were determined to score first in this game,” Hirao said. “When we got those three runs in the first inning, it took a lot of pressure off our pitchers and we grew more confident as the game went on.”

Dating back to Game 5 on Thursday, Hirao homered, doubled, singled and homered in four consecutive at-bats before flying out in the seventh.

Seibu’s win ties the series at 3-3 and means the title will be won in a decisive Game 7, which will be played on Sunday at Tokyo Dome.

“We went into tonight’s game knowing we had to win,” Seibu manager Hisanobu Watanabe said. “I think it was that determination that carried us to victory.

“There is only one game left and we’re tied,” he added. “So we’ll be playing for the championship tomorrow and we’ll be ready.”

The 2004 Series was the last to go seven games, with the Lions winning Games 6 and 7 against the Chunichi Dragons on the road at Nagoya Dome.

Game 4 starter Kishi was brilliant in his second appearance of this series, pitching out of the bullpen on two-days’ rest and striking out six in 5 2/3 scoreless frames to earn the win in relief.

“Kishi pitched fantastic with only two days rest,” Watanabe said. “He kept the Giants hitters off balance and did not allow them to get good timing.”

Lions pitcher Kazuyuki Hoashi began the game and lasted 3 1/3 innings, allowing one run on six hits and a walk.

He pitched himself into a rough spot in the second, putting runners on first and second with no outs. He gave up an RBI double to the next batter, Yoshiyuki Kamei, but retired the next three to get out of trouble.

Seibu was forced to go to the bullpen fairly early, bringing in Kishi, in a rare relief appearance, in the fourth after Hoashi again put a pair of runners on with one out.

The 24-year-old got the job done by retiring Hayato Sakamoto and striking out Kazunari Tsuruoka to end the threat.

He caused his own problems in the eighth, allowing a walk and a single to put runners on the corners with one out. That brought up Alex Ramirez, who hit 45 homers in the regular season and has hit two in this series, representing the tying run at the plate.

But Kishi rose to the occasion again, retiring Ramirez and striking out Lee Seung Yeop.

He put runners on first and third with one away again in the ninth, but once more wriggled out of trouble, striking out the last two batters to end the game.

The young hurler made his first career Japan Series start in Game 4 and struck out 10 in a complete-game shutout.

Kishi has allowed no runs, given up eight hits and struck out at least one batter in 13 of the 14 2/3 frames he’s pitched in the series.

The Giants had their chances but went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and 1-for-11 with a runner at third.

Starter Hisanori Takahashi ran into trouble early and gave up three runs in the first inning. He was pinch-hit for in the second after allowing three runs on five hits in two innings.

The Giants’ normally reliable relief corps had a decent night, allowing just one run in seven innings, but Yomiuri’s woes at the plate prevented it from clinching the title.

Lions center fielder Takumi Kuriyama got things going early with a one out single and Hiroyuki Nakajima and Takeya Nakamura followed with walks to load the bases in the first.

Takahashi retired the next batter, Taketoshi Goto, but gave up a three-run double to Hirao which put Seibu in front.

Giants sluggers Ramirez and Lee singled to lead off the second and Kamei doubled into right field to make the score 3-1.

The Lions added a run on Hirao’s second home run of the series, a shot to left off reliever Kentaro Nishimura, in the fifth.