Takahashi, Fighters take commanding 3-0 series lead


Sapporo — Day after day, baseball produces new story lines.

Thursday’s game at Sapporo Dome was a reminder of that.

Unlike the previous day’s contest, this was a low scoring game in which both teams defended well every time there were runners on bases.

But the Fighters have an edge when it boils down to an endurance contest.

Nippon Ham cleanup hitter Shinji Takahashi broke a 1-1 deadlock with a two-run single in the seventh inning, and 24-year-old sidearm starter Keisaku Itokazu pitched seven solid innings as the Fighters edged the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 3-1 in Game 2 of the Pacific League Climax Series second stage at Sapporo Dome on Thursday night.

The PL pennant-winning Fighters, who entered the series with an automatic one- win advantage, are 3-0 in the series and one victory shy away of clinching their first Japan Series appearance in two years.

“We don’t think we’ll only have to win one,” Fighters manager Masataka Nashida said after the game. “We’re not going to think about that (one more win).”

With the game tied 1-1 in the pivotal seventh, Eagles starter Hisashi Iwakuma intentionally walked Atsunori Inaba to load the bases with two outs. Then Takahashi clubbed the hurler’s high two-seamer to left field to drive in the go-ahead and winning run.

“We struggled against (Rauten starter Hisashi Iwakuma’s) two-seamers, so I didn’t think he would come at me with it at that particular at- bat,” Takahashi said. “But I was able to react to that.”

The Eagles loaded the bases in the eighth with no outs, but reliever Takayuki Kanamori got out of the jam with some defensive help, not allowing any runs.

Closer Hisashi Takeda pitched the final inning to end the game, earning a save in the process.

Itokazu (1-0) scattered seven hits, striking out two and walking four. Iwakuma (0-1) gave up nine hits and was charged with all three runs.

“I didn’t feel pressure much,” Itokazu said. “I feel blessed because our pitchers did well yesterday.”

“We didn’t do what we were supposed to do,” Rakuten manager Katsuya Nomura said in an angry tone. “That’s what makes a difference with Nippon Ham.”

The Eagles got on board first, when ex-Fighter Fernando Seguignol hit a towering solo shot to center in the top of the fourth inning.

Nippon Ham wasted no time to tie it as Eiichi Koyano drove home Inaba with a two-out single to right in the bottom half.

“I hit an outside fastball,” Koyano said. “The batters before me set the table well for me.”

For the Eagles, PL batting champion Teppei Tsuchiya was 2-for-2, walked twice and was hit by a pitch.

Inaba went 2-for-3 and scored two runs for the Fighters.

For Friday’s Game 3, Nippon Ham’s Tomoya Yagi and Rakuten’s Masahiro Tanaka are the scheduled starters.