Inada, Fighters rally in 8th

Hillman's club qualifies for Asia Series title game


The little things can kill you.

News photo Hokkaido Nippon Ham star Michihiro Ogasawara exchanges
high-fives with his teammates in front of the
dugout after hitting a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to put the
Fighters ahead 2-1 in the top of the eighth
inning against Taiwan’s La New Bears at Tokyo Dome on Friday
night in the Asia Series. The Fighters
defeated the Bears.

George Rayborn’s scoreless return to Japan was undone by the combination of Naoto Inada’s pinch-hit infield hit in the eighth inning and a little plate discipline as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters came back to earn a tight 2-1 victory over Taiwan’s La New Bears on Friday in the Konami Cup Asia Series at Tokyo Dome.

Kensuke Tanaka hit into a fielder’s choice to tie the game and Michihiro Ogasawara hit a sacrifice fly to drive in the winning run as Nippon Ham stayed perfect in the Asia Series.

“For a turning point, I don’t think you can look anywhere other than what we did offensively in the eighth,” Fighters manager Trey Hillman said. “The infield single was in just the right place, sometimes that is a line drive to short(stop). We took advantage of walks, and that takes discipline. Our base running was disciplined.

“I would say that discipline was the difference.”

That made things all the more painful for Rayborn.

Rayborn, who played the last half of the 2005 season with the Hiroshima Carp as Kenny Rayborn, moved into Taiwan this season, went 16-5 with a 1.94 ERA for La New this year.

He was that pitcher until the eighth inning, when he began to tire.

Inada beat the throw to first on his lazy tap off a broken bat, and when pinch-hitter Toshimasa Konta got ahead in the count before sending Tanaka to second with a sacrifice bunt, Bears manager Hong I-chung had seen enough.

“It’s been a long time since I have thrown more than five innings,” Rayborn said. “As a pitcher I want to be out there every inning of every game, but I think the manager made a wise decision. Once I got the guy on base, I started rushing things.”

Rayborn’s inability to finish exposed an apparent Bears weakness — its bullpen.

Closer Ramon Morel came in to stall Nippon Ham, and although he bagged 14 saves this season, he walked the first two batters he faced to load the bases before Tanaka’s grounder stymied first baseman Pan Chung-wei, whose hesitation and failure to charge the ball cost him the chance to get the lead runner or Tanaka.

With one out, Ogasawara flied out to left, and Hichori Morimoto was thrown out trying to take third base after Makoto Kaneko had scored the go-ahead run.

Morimoto made the cut and didn’t get the out before the run scored, and that was smart base running, Hillman said.

The mini-rally bailed out Masaru Takeda, who was in line for the loss after left fielder Zeng Hao-ju’s fifth-inning solo home run put the Bears on top.

Takeda left before the bottom of the frame, his nine strikeouts and one walk worthy of a win in his seven-inning effort.

“Takeda was outstanding,” Hillman said of his starter. “That is probably a high for him with nine strikeouts.” Two of Takeda’s Ks came against cleanup hitter Chen Chin-feng, who had homered twice in La New’s win over China on Thursday. Chen was a non-factor Friday, going 0-for-4.

Hisashi Takeda pitched a scoreless eighth inning for Nippon Ham, fanning one, ahead of Micheal Nakamura, who stranded a runner on third in the ninth inning to close things out.

Rayborn’s numbers were good enough to win on most days, but without run support, it was not enough. In 7 1/3 innings, he gave up three hits and whiffed six, walking one.

“It was a great game and they were a good team,” Hillman said. “Rayborn pitched a great game against us. You just have to hope you can make adjustments.”

Inada was his runner, so Rayborn was charged with that run. The loss was all Morel’s, however.

In two years of Asia Series play, Japan’s representative has not lost a game. The Chiba Lotte Marines swept the inaugural event last year, and Nippon Ham booked a spot in the championship game with Friday’s win.

In the early game, a 10-run fifth inning spurred the Samsung Lions on to a rebound victory.

The Lions lost to Nippon Ham on Thursday but were no worse for the wear against the overmatched Chinese.

Korean champion Samsung rolled to a 13-1 victory in seven innings in a game shortened because of the mercy rule.

The Lions had five batters with multiple hits, bouncing back with authority as Shim Joung Soo and Kim Jong Hoon led the way with two RBIs apiece.

Jun Byung Ho picked up the win for Samsung.

Samsung will play La New on Saturday night, and in order to clinch a spot in Sunda’s championship game for the second straight year, the Lions will have to beat the Bears.

The Fighters and Chinese will play at 1 p.m., while the Bears and Lions will do battle at 7 p.m.

The title game will be Sunday at 6 p.m.