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Inaba falls just short of milestone in Fighters victory

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Atsunori Inaba eloquently stated that he doesn’t play baseball to come up with 2,000 hits. He plays the game to win for his team.

So instead of regretting coming up with just one hit on the night, the team-first veteran was pleased that one hit ended up being a significant one for his club.

Inaba, who entered the game two hits shy of 2,000 for his career, went 1-for-3 and launched a solo homer into the seats to lead the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to a 2-1 victory over the Chiba Lotte Marines at Tokyo Dome on Thursday night.

After a couple of hitless at-bats in a game tied at 1, Inaba smacked the first pitch from Marines submarine pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe into the center-right bleachers in his third and final attempt to deliver the go-ahead run in the sixth inning. It was also a great birthday present for skipper Hideki Kuriyama.

“I didn’t expect I would hit a home run,” Inaba said. “But the homer gave us the win on the birthday of manager Kuriyama. That’s great. I’m pleased about nothing but the win for the team.”

The Marines took a 1-0 lead on a Saburo Omura RBI single off Nippon Ham starter Brian Wolfe in the first. They got on bases afterward as well, but weren’t able to take advantage of their chances. Chiba Lotte’s night ended with one run on 10 hits.

In the fourth, the Fighters tied the game at 1-1 on a Micah Hoffpauir solo homer.

“We could’ve allowed five or six more runs, but Hoffpauir changed the flow with one big shot,” Kuriyama said of the American slugger, who had been limited to just two at-bats due to an injury this year. “Head coach (Junichi Fukura) told me before the game Hoffpauir is good against Shinsuke and he came up with the result.

“We got the win as a team like that, and I’m pretty pleased about it.”

Wolfe (2-1) looked shaky early but managed to not allow any runs after the first. In all, he lasted six innings, giving up nine hits and fanning four on 92 pitches to earn the win.

Kuriyama sent Keisuke Tanimoto, Hirotoshi Masui and closer Hisashi Takeda to the hill in the last three frames. Takeda notched his sixth save of the season.

Watanabe (0-1) seemed better and more elusive than Wolfe, but the two solo dingers he gave up hurt him. Watanabe was charged with the loss.

Though he claimed that he doesn’t play records, Inaba said that he felt an extraordinary atmosphere surrounding his at-bats and it gave him some jitters.

“Receiving the cheers, I felt unusual pressure in myself,” said Inaba. “I felt the peculiar air at the first two at-bats. So for the third at-bat, I stepped up to the plate trying to think that if I don’t hit, I don’t hit.”

While Inaba sid that jokingly, Kuriyama tipped his cap to the No. 5 batter, who leads the Pacific League in batting average (.384), home runs (four) and RBIs (22), for refocusing after his unsuccessful at-bats.

“While we didn’t have the momentum earlier, Inaba revamped and came up with (the homer). That tells the whole story about this guy.”

Because the Fighters, the home team, were winning, the bottom of the eighth ended up being their last offensive frame. The inning began with their leadoff man Kensuke Tanaka but the Fighters could not give Inaba another chance to achieve the 2,000-hit milestone.

With Inaba waiting in the batter’s circle, cleanup hitter Sho Nakata was struck out by Marines reliever Yuhei Nakaushiro for the third out.

“Right after the game, Kensuke and Sho came to me to say sorry,” Inaba said. “But I told them I’m not playing to reach 2,000 hits. But making them feel that way, I feel I’m giving a trouble to the team, so I want to hit it as soon as possible.”

The night’s homer put Inaba one shy of reaching 250 career home runs as well.

Nippon Ham, which has the best record in the PL (16-8), now moves to Sendai for a three-game series against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Lions take down Hawks

KYODO,
STAFF REPORT

Tomohito Yoeno hit a pinch-hit go-ahead grand slam in the top of the ninth as the Seibu Lions defeated the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 5-3 on Thursday at Fukuoka Yahoo Dome.

With Seibu trailing 3-1, Lions pinch hitter Tatsuyuki Uemoto led off the ninth with a single. The next two batters struck out before Hiroyuki Nakajima doubled and Takeya Nakamura walked to load the bases against Brian Falkenborg.

Yoeno then sent the second pitch he saw to the seats in left to put the Lions on top to stay.

Eagles 4, Buffaloes 2

At Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium, Orix scored the tying run on a wild pitch by Shinichiro Koyama in the eighth inning, and pinch-hitter Mitsutaka Goto delivered a go-ahead single, helping his team end a five-game losing streak.

Tohoku Rakuten saw its winning streak end at three games.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Giants 15, BayStars 3

At Kagoshima’s Kamoike Stadium, Yomiuri rapped out a season-high 15 hits en route to a demolition of Yokohama, snapping a five-game skid as it clawed its way out of last place.

Hisayoshi Chono went 3-for-5, and Shinnosuke Abe hit a two-run homer in the first inning and a run-scoring double in the fifth. D.J. Houlton (1-2) gave up three runs in seven hits for his first win of the season.

Tigers 1, Carp 0, 11 innings

At Nishinomiya’s Koshien Stadium, Keiichi Hirano hit a walk-off single in the 11th inning to give Hanshin a victory over Hiroshima.

Hirano’s single to center off closer Dennis Sarfate (0-2) drove home a runner from second with two outs to end it. Yuya Ando struck out 10 over nine scoreless innings for Hanshin.

Swallows 4, Dragons 2

At Jingu Stadium, Lastings Milledge hit a go-ahead two-run drive in the third inning, and Kyohei Muranaka threw two-run ball over five frames as Yakult extended its unbeaten streak to six games to move into first place.

Tony Barnette got his ninth save. Kazuki Yoshimi (3-2) was tagged for the loss.