CHIBA — The Seibu Lions couldn’t get Koji Mitsui off the mound fast enough.
|Koichi Hori of the Marines watches the ball fly against the Lions in their Pacific League playoff opener on Saturday at Chiba Marine Stadium. Lotte won 2-1.
Mitsui was meant to relieve Daisuke Matsuzaka, but his performance came as a relief only to the Chiba Lotte Marines, who scored a run against Mitsui to break a 1-1 tie in the eighth inning of Lotte’s 2-1 win over the Lions on Saturday at Chiba Marine Stadium.
Lotte left fielder Matt Franco had the game-winning hit, a bloop single into center fielder that scored Kazuya Fukuura.
Fukuura knocked a double into right field to open the eighth, and Saburo Omura also singled to center field, advancing Fukuura to third, where he scored easily on Franco’s hit.
“I was just trying to get a good pitch,” said Franco. “I hit a fastball.
“It wasn’t the greatest pitch I ever hit, but it got the job done.”
The first seven innings comprised a pitchers duel between Matsuzaka and Lotte’s Shunsuke Watanabe.
Watanabe struggled early, giving up a home run to Takumi Kuriyama on the first pitch of the game. Seibu’s next two batters singled, but the Lions missed the opportunity to build on their lead and managed only three other hits until the ninth inning.
The early run gave the Lions an edge, Kuriyama said.
“I wanted to hit the ball hard, but the wind was quite tough,” he said. “I was glad to do it in such a big game.”
The Marines didn’t get to Matsuzaka until the fifth inning.
Toshiaki Imae started the fifth off with an infield single, legging out a hit after shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima couldn’t get a throw off in time.
Tasuku Hashimoto set the table with another single, and after a Matsuzaka error, Tsuyoshi Nishioka reached first to give the Marines bases loaded with no outs.
After the first inning, winds at Chiba Marine Stadium picked up, bearing down at a rate of 11 meters per second by the fifth inning.
Had the wind been a little less, Koichi Hori’s sacrifice fly that scored Imae could easily have been a grand slam, as the ball was caught at the warning track in left field.
Matsuzaka struck out the next batter, and Saburo flied out to end the inning.
“There are never any easy at-bats against Matsuzaka,” Lotte manager Bobby Valentine said. “When you give them a run after one pitch, that makes it harder.”
Seibu staged a rally that fell short in the ninth against vaunted Marines closer Masahide Kobayashi.
Kobayashi gave up a pair of hits, but a double play ended the game before Seibu could tie.
Valentine said the win showed his team’s character.
“I thought that was the way we played all year long,” he said. “Right down to the last out.”
Lotte is up 1-0 in the three-game series, which will continue Sunday at 2 p.m. in Chiba. The Marines need another win to advance to the Pacific League Championship Series. The Marines’ focus is on Sunday, though.
“It was a huge win to get the first one out of the way, but we need to get one more to go to Fukuoka,” Franco said.
There were a few empty seats among the crowd of 28,979, but Franco said playing on the Marines’ home field was a huge advantage nonetheless.
“It was a great atmosphere here today,” Franco said. “Every pitch is huge. We beat a good team.”
‘Stars beat Swallows
YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Shuichi Murata opened the scoring with a three-run homer and Yoshihiro Doi pitched 7 2/3 strong innings Saturday as the Yokohama BayStars beat the Yakult Swallows 8-1 in the Central League.
Murata hit his 24th home run of the season in the second inning and doubled to set the stage for an RBI sacrifice fly by Ryoji Aikawa that gave Yokohama a 4-0 lead in the fourth at Yokohama Stadium.
Carp, Brown agree
HIROSHIMA (Kyodo) The Hiroshima Carp and Marty Brown have reached an agreement on a deal that will make him take over from Koji Yamamoto as manager of the Central League team, Hiroshima officials said Saturday.
Brown, a 42-year-old former Hiroshima infielder, has agreed on a one-year deal carrying an annual salary of $400,000 with a performance-related bonus after negotiations held in the United States.
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