CHIBA — Toshiaki Imae wasted no time settling into his new spot in the batting order, and the Chiba Lotte Marines took an easy first step toward ending 31 years of futility.
|Chiba Lotte infielder Toshiaki Imae rounds the bases after hitting a solo homer in the first inning in Game 1 of the Japan Series against the Hanshin Tigers at Chiba Marine Stadium on Saturday. The Marines beat the Tigers 10-1.
Instead of setting the table in the No. 2 spot, Imae was more apt to clear it, going 4-for-4 with a home run and an RBI double in Lotte’s 10-1 fog-shortened win over the Hanshin Tigers in Game 1 of the Japan Series on Saturday at Chiba Marine Stadium.
The game was interrupted by fog in the seventh inning as umpires pulled players off the field after Benny Agbayani’s two-run homer.
Almost 40 minutes later, home plate umpire Minoru Nakamura called the game.
Lotte’s Tomoya Satozaki, Agbayani and Lee Seung Yeop all homered, and Saburo Omura doubled in a pair of runs for the victors.
Imae batted second because Koichi Hori, Lotte’s regular No. 2 batter, was out with an injured back.
The Marines wanted a fast start against Hanshin, and Imae provided some first-inning firepower, taking a 2-1 change-up from 13-game winner Kei Igawa into the left-field bleachers, right into the middle of Hanshin’s cheering section.
Imae had batted second only one other time this season.
“It was great to come through in that situation so early in the Japan Series,” he said. “We don’t want to lose at home, so it was a good way to get started.”
The Marines wanted to jump on the Tigers early because of their feared “JFK” bullpen.
The Marines did exactly what they needed to keep Jeff Williams, Kyuji Fujikawa and Tomoyuki Kubota from protecting a Tigers lead — never give them one.
Hanshin tied the score in the top of the fifth inning, when an Atsushi Fujimoto sacrifice fly scored Shinjiro Hiyama, the lone blemish on Lotte starter Naoyuki Shimizu’s seven-inning gem.
Shimizu struck out six and allowed five hits, but his biggest accomplishment of the night was silencing the powerful heart of Hanshin’s lineup — Tomoaki Kanemoto and Makoto Imaoka.
Kanemoto and Imaoka combined for 69 home runs and 272 RBIs this season, but against Shimizu, they were a combined 0-for-6.
“It was too bad we didn’t get to play nine innings,” Lotte manager Bobby Valentine said. “Shimizu was fantastic.”
Lotte’s powerful offense had little trouble putting runs on the board, as the Marines reached base in every inning.
Starting with the bottom of the fifth, Lotte scored in three straight innings, taking control of the game.
Imae stepped to the plate in the fifth with Masato Watanabe on first and Tsuyoshi Nishioka on second, and he ripped a double off the right field wall, scoring Nishioka and advancing Watanabe to third.
Saburo cleared the bases with a double in the next at-bat, making the score 4-1.
“It was the first meaningful hit I had gotten in a long time,” Saburo said. “I am happy I was able to perform the role of the clean-up hitter.”
Lotte added another run in the sixth, as Lee took Igawa deep again, blasting a solo shot to right field.
“It was a curveball just off the middle of the plate,” Lee said. “I really wanted to add to our lead in that at-bat, and hopefully I can keep hitting like that for the rest of the series.”
Hanshin brought rookie Kentaro Hashimoto in to relieve Igawa in the seventh inning, but Lotte had doubled its offensive output by the time the fog rolled in.
Imae led off the seventh with a single, and he was followed by Kazuya Fukuura’s base hit. After Saburo flied out, advancing Imae to third, Satozaki continued his recent power surge with the three-run blast to left-center field.
Hashimoto continued his struggle, giving up a single to Matt Franco before Agbayani’s home run, which immediately preceded the heavy fog bank.
Hashimoto recorded just one out, giving up five hits and five earned runs, but because the Tigers were trailing when he came in, he was not tagged with the loss.
The lopsided victory has Lotte’s confidence high.
“I think we can win the series at Koshien (Stadium),” Shimizu said, meaning that Lotte would need no more than five games to capture the Japan Series Championship.
“I agree with Shimizu,” Imae said. “I hope we can win tomorrow.”
Although pleased with the rout, Valentine is being low-key about Game 1’s significance.
“All it means is we have to win three and they have to win four,” he said.
Fukuura was 2-for-4, and Agbayani was 3-for-4 for Lotte.
Akihiro Yano and Andy Sheets, who were 2-for-3, were Hanshin’s only batters with multiple hits.
Lotte’s Shunsuke Watanabe will take the hill against Yuya Ando in Game 2 on Sunday at 6:15 p.m. in Chiba.
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