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Strength in relief gives pitch-perfect Lions win

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Relief pitching was the one clear advantage the Yomiuri Giants had over the Seibu Lions entering the Japan Series.

Once that was taken care of, the path to the title became much clearer.

The Lions plugged a trio of starters into their relief corps over the final two games of the Series and were rewarded with 12 2/3 combined innings of scoreless relief on the road as they won Games 6 and 7 to take the Japan Series title.

Takayuki Kishi began the parade of starters-turned-relievers with an amazing performance on short rest in Game 6 that helped earn him the Japan Series MVP award.

“I’m so happy, that’s all I can say,” Kishi said. “I did my best and I got lots of help from the hitters and on defense and we played with a lot of heart.”

Pitching with just two days’ rest after his complete-game shutout in Game 4, Kishi relieved starter Kazuyuki Hoashi and struck out six over 5 2/3 scoreless innings. Kishi, who threw 147 pitches in Game 4, tossed 91 pitches to earn the win in relief.

“Unbelievable,” Lions closer Alex Graman said. “To come in on two days’ rest and pitch the way he did to get us into Game 7 was tremendous. Lot of guts from that kid to go out there and throw.”

Game 3 starter Kazuhisa Ishii was the next in line, relieving Game 7 starter Fumiya Nishiguchi in the third inning on Sunday. Ishii got a measure of revenge for his loss in the series’ third game by striking out two in two scoreless innings.

Lions ace Hideaki Wakui, who started Games 1 and 5, took the ball from Ishii to start the fifth and struck out four of the six batters he faced to set the table for setup man Tomoki Hoshino in the seventh.

Wakui said he was inspired by Kishi’s effort after watching Game 6 on TV

“I wanted to pitch like Kishi did,” Wakui said.

After Nishiguchi came out, Wakui, who said he received an e-mail from former Lion Daisuke Matsuzaka instructing him to help win the title by any means, began to prepare himself to go into the game.

“I was ready,” Wakui said. “I felt more gutsy, especially because I was knocked out in Game 5.”

Hoshino came through with a flawless seventh which earned him the victory in relief.

Graman entered the game in the eighth, knowing he was going to have to pitch two innings to snag the title-winning save.

“I pretty much had the feeling I was in to lose it or win it,” Graman said. “So I was going to go out there and give it 110 percent. When we got that run in the eighth inning, I just thought to myself that I wasn’t going to let it slip away.”

In Game 7, Ishii, Wakui, Hoshino and Graman combined to retire 21 consecutive batters — Nishiguchi retired three straight before departing, making the team total 24 straight — and didn’t allow a single baserunner over the final seven innings.

Their heroics, however, wouldn’t have been possible without Kishi’s gutsy showing in the sixth game.

His efforts didn’t go unnoticed by his teammates, especially by Nishiguchi, who the team expected would get the nod in the finale if the series went the distance.

“I knew it’d be Nishiguchi-san,” Kishi said. “I wanted Nishiguchi-san to pitch and did my best. Nishiguchi-san said, ‘I’ll pitch to make you the MVP.’ “

The 24-year-old Kishi admitted after the series that the prospect of facing the All-Star laden Yomiuri lineup had initially led to a bout of nerves.

“I was overwhelmed,” Kishi said. “But I was defiant and was able to go against them. I didn’t imagine I could do something like this in my second year.”

The 68-kg pitcher also joked that he dealt with a bout of vertigo after being given a doage (being tossed in the air by his teammates) after being named the MVP.

“They threw me too high because I’m light,” he joked.

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report