CHIBA — There are only two K’s in Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi’s name, but in his arm, there are many more.
Kobayashi took a two-hitter into the eighth inning, striking out nine, as Lotte completed a first-stage Pacific League playoff series sweep with a 3-1 win over the Seibu Lions at Chiba Marine Stadium on Sunday.
Behind the arm of the mighty Kobayashi, Lotte kept the Lions’ bats in check for the second straight day, as the Marines clung to a one-run lead before scoring a couple of insurance runs in the sixth.
“I think this was his best game, although his last was very good, this was just as good,” Lotte manager Bobby Valentine said of Kobayashi’s performance. “This was excellent. He only missed his spot about three times.”
Kobayashi was nothing short of dominant for the first seven innings, but he started to come unraveled in the eighth.
Takeya Nakamura hit a solo home run into the right field bleachers in the eighth for the Lions’ only run, and after Kosuke Noda followed Nakamura’s shot with a single, Lotte turned to its bullpen.
Marines fans played a huge role in bringing out his best, Kobayashi said.
“When I see these fans, it inspires me to do my best pitching,” he said, acknowledging the crowd of 28,996.
The Marines gave Kobayashi a little breathing room in the sixth inning, plating a pair of runs with two outs.
With one out, Saburo Omura singled, and he avoided a double play that would have ended the inning when he beat out Matt Franco’s grounder to shortstop on a hit-and-run.
Benny Agbayani singled to center field in the next at-bat, allowing Saburo to score all the way from second base.
Agbayani recognized the urgency of the situation, he said after the hit.
“Because there were two outs, I wanted to make the most of that chance,” he said. “The fans were so exciting, we didn’t want to lose. We wanted to end this (series) today.”
Lee Seung Yeop followed Agbayani’s shot with another single, which set up Toshiaki Imae to knock in a third Lotte run with a base hit.
The Lotte rally was enough to take 17-game winner Fumiya Nishiguchi out of the game.
“Saburo getting the jump on (a 2-2 count) and being safe at second was the key to the game,” Valentine said.
The Marines posted a run in the first inning, making the best of a lineup change that saw shortstop Makoto Kosaka bat leadoff for Lotte.
Kosaka took Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s spot in the order Sunday, which came as a surprise after Nishioka’s dazzling glovework in Lotte’s series-opening victory.
Kosaka led off with a triple to right-center field, and Koichi Hori flied out to center, driving in the run.
“When I put someone in, I expect them to do good,” Valentine said, defending his decision to start Kosaka. “I’m not surprised (Kosaka) did that. . . . There was no reason for him not to play today.”
The Marines will play in Fukuoka against the SoftBank Hawks in a five-game series for the PL pennant starting Wednesday night.
199 and counting …
YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Norichika Aoki went 2-for-4 to increase his season hit total to 199 as the Yakult Swallows settled for a 3-3 tie with the Yokohama BayStars in 12 innings in the Central League on Sunday.
The second-year outfielder singled to center in the third inning and then tied the game with a two-run single to left in the seventh at Yokohama Stadium. He now needs one more hit to become the second player in Japanese baseball history to have 200 hits in a season.
Ichiro Suzuki collected 210 hits in 1994, when he was with the Pacific League’s Orix BlueWave.
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