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Marines push Hawks to the limit

Chiba Lotte scores 5 runs in final 3 frames to even Climax Series with Softbank at 3-3

by Kaz Nagatsuka

FUKUOKA — You just can’t leave the stadium or switch the channel when these Marines are playing in this postseason.

Chiba Lotte’s offense exploded late and its relievers exhibited fearless work as the Marines downed the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 5-2 in Game 5 of the Pacific League Climax Series on Monday night.

With the come-from-behind victory, Chiba Lotte tied the series 3-3 and sends it to a decisive sixth game on Tuesday. The Hawks entered the series with an automatic one-win advantage.

“Our guys have got strong hearts, and what we did proved that,” Marines manager Norifumi Nishimura said after the game at Yahoo Dome.

“We simply don’t give up. That’s how we play ball.”

Down 1-0 in the game, the Marines began a rally and successfully took a 3-1 lead with five hits off Brian Falkenborg and Tadashi Settsu — Softbank’s two best relievers — in the seventh.

Chiba Lotte gave up a run in the eighth, but Ikuhiro Kiyota secured the win with a stunning two-run homer in the ninth. It was Kiyota’s second homer of the series.

“We struggled against them,” Tadahito Iguchi said of Chiba Lotte’s 9-15 record against the Hawks in the regular season. “So we wanted to do something.

“We scored five in the last three innings, and that’s going to lead to tomorrow’s game, too.”

Iguchi lit a fire under the struggling offense, which had come up with only 21 hits and eight runs in the previous four games. The former Hawk went 3-for-5 with two doubles to lead the team’s 11-hit night.

The Hawks, who were silenced by Chiba Lotte’s Shunsuke Watanabe for eight innings in Game 4, quickly notched a run on a Hiroki Kokubo RBI double in the first.

The Marines, trying to avoid elimination from the series, were forced to make an early decision to take starter Yuta Omine, who had a tough time locating pitches, out after the second.

But Chiba Lotte’s relievers kept the team in the game with solid work. Veteran Shingo Ono and Tatsuya Uchi combined for five shutout innings.

Softbank reduced the deficit to one in the bottom of the eighth with a no-out RBI double by Jose Ortiz off Yoshihiro Ito. But failed to drive home another baserunner to tie the score.

Closer Hiroyuki Kobayashi worked the final inning for his second save of the series.

“We had to change (Omine) early, but our relievers did a splendid job,” Nishimura said.

Softbank starting lefty Kenji Otonari got off to a great start, retiring the first 11 batters.

Softbank manager Koji Akiyama also made an early decision. He switched Otonari, who seemed able to go a few more innings, with Brian Falkenborg after the fifth.

But this decision turned out to be a blunder.

Chiba Lotte scored two runs on consecutive RBI hits by Saburo Omura and pinch hitter Kazuya Fukuura off Falkenborg in the seventh.

“I was going to hit whatever came in the strike zone,” Fukuura said of his go-ahead RBI single.

Said Iguchi of Falkenborg coming out earlier than usual: “We wouldn’t have liked it if they came with their usual relay.”

Otonari gave up two hits, no walks and no runs, striking seven on 69 pitches.

“I was extremely nervous from morning until game time,” Otonari said. “But my fastball was running well and I threw with confidence. I think I got the job done.”

Falkenborg, who made his first appearance in this postseason, took the loss.

Game 6 is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Yahoo Dome.

Hoshino mulls future

OSAKA (Kyodo) Hanshin senior director Senichi Hoshino is still debating whether to accept the Rakuten manager’s job, the ex-Tigers skipper said Monday.

“Hanshin’s season just ended yesterday,” Hoshino said during a radio interview, a night after the Tigers were eliminated at the first stage of the Central League Climax Series by the Yomiuri Giants. “I want some time to think things through.”

Rakuten has sought permission from Hanshin to negotiate with the 63-year-old Hoshino, who has won the CL pennant with the Tigers and the Chunichi Dragons.

Hoshino met with Hanshin owner Shinya Sakai last Tuesday. Sakai said he would “respect and support” any decision made by Hoshino, who says he still has a passion for managing.