Seventh-inning rally sparks Lions in PL opener


TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — The Saitama Seibu Lions failed to accomplish their goal of scoring early during the first game of the season.

Better late than never.

Hiroyuki Nakajima hit a tying homer to straightaway center in the seventh inning and Dee Brown followed suit with the go-ahead shot during the same frame to help the Lions edge the Chiba Lotte Marines 2-1 in the Pacific League opener in front of 33,331 fans on Saturday afternoon at Seibu Dome.

The Lions trailed 1-0 and had been held to just one hit when Nakajima stepped to the plate to lead off the seventh. He worked the count to 2-1 before sending a fastball into the deepest part of the stadium.

“I’m glad that I was able to hit the home run to tie the game,” Nakajima said.

Lotte starter Yoshihisa Naruse barely had time to recover before Brown worked the count to 3-0, then caught up to a fastball to put the Lions ahead 2-1.

“I was just trying to connect with the ball squarely,” said Brown, who was hitless in his first two at-bats. “I knew he was nibbling around the plate — throwing sliders down and away — and I knew he would want to come with a strike there.”

Prior to the seventh, the game had been dominated by the pitching duel between starters Hideaki Wakui and Naruse, both former Yokohama High standouts.

Wakui lived up to his billing as the reigning Sawamura Award winner, allowing a run and striking out 10 over 7 2/3 innings. He pitched himself into a jam in the third, loading the bases with none away, but got out of it with three straight outs, the last two by strikeout.

“I was just taking it one pitch at a time,” Wakui said.

“It was a hard game,” he added later.

The Lions ace wasn’t so fortunate after giving up a one-out single to Toshiaki Imae in the fifth. Tsuyoshi Nishioka followed that by nearly sending a slider into the seats, settling instead for a tie-breaking RBI double.

Nishioka had a big day for the Marines, finishing 3-for-4 with an RBI. He was the only player from either side to record more than one hit.

Naruse was sharp after a rough preseason, allowing a pair of runs and striking out eight over seven innings in the first opening-day start of his career.

He looked as if he would make the slim 1-0 advantage hold up before falling victim to the Lions’ heroics.

“I only gave up three hits, but two of them were home runs,” Naruse said.

Clutch hitting is nothing new to Nakajima, but Brown’s homer provided a storybook start to his NPB career.

“This is one of my most memorable moments in baseball and I’ve been playing 15 years,” Brown said.

Lotte’s Kim Tae Kyun would probably like to forget his first game in Japan after striking out in all four appearances at the plate. One of those came with the bases loaded, as the Korean slugger whiffed on a 3-2 shuuto in the third.

Former Marines reliever Brian Sikorski, who led Lotte with 15 saves last season, tossed a perfect ninth to record a save in his first game with Seibu.

The teams will meet for the second game of their season-opening series on Sunday at Seibu Dome.

Pitcher Kazuyuki Hoashi will lead the charge for the Lions in the second game. Hoashi, who was 9-7 in 2009, will be opposed by Lotte’s Shunsuke Watanabe (3-13).

Hawks top Fighters

Kyodo News

SAPPORO — Hiroki Kokubo went 3-for-4 with two RBIs as the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks scored five runs off Yu Darvish for a 5-3 win over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Opening Day for the Pacific League.

Kokubo started a two-run second inning with a base hit, had an RBI single in the third and added a run-scoring double in the fifth at Sapporo Dome.

Toshiya Sugiuchi (1-0) allowed three runs and eight hits in six innings before three relievers held the defending champion Fighters scoreless the rest of the way.

Darvish (0-1) gave up five runs — three earned — on seven hits in a complete game effort, striking out 13 and walking none.

“This is one of the 144 regular-season games, but the opening game has an extra significance. It’s really encouraging we scored five runs against Darvish,” Kokubo said.

“I knew I would be nervous at the plate because of Opening Day, so I just tried to swing the bat aggressively. With our ace on the mound, we could not drop this game.”

Kokubo and Hitoshi Tamura hit consecutive singles leading off the second and both advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Lee Bum Ho.

Softbank then took a 1-0 lead when Nippon Ham first baseman Shinji Takahashi made an error on a Yuya Hasegawa sharp grounder.

The second run came across in the frame when Nobuhiro Matsuda beat out a potential inning-ending double play.

Takahiro Mahara closed out the ninth to earn the save. Highly touted 20-year-old Sho Nakata singled in two runs in the sixth for Nippon Ham.

Buffaloes 1, Eagles 0

At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Chihiro Kaneko outpitched Hisashi Iwakuma with a four-hit shutout as Orix edged Tohoku Rakuten.

Kaneko (1-0) scattered four singles and did not allow a runner to reach third base in a 106-pitch outing. Iwakuma (0-1) held the Buffaloes to one run on five hits over eight innings.

Shinji Shimoyama led off the third with a double and scored on a one-out single by Keiji Obiki.

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Saitama Seibu Lions newcomer Dee Brown talks about the joy of winning his first game with the Pacific League club. Read Jason Coskrey’s story on The Japan Times’ Web site.