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09/14/2008 Archived Entry: "WORLD BASEBALL TODAY (September 14, 2008)"

by Bruce Baskin
Radio Miami International

Florida third baseman Jorge Cantu swatted his 25th home run of the season Friday night as the Marlins topped the Washington Nationals 2-1 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. The win was Florida's third in a row, marking the first time the Fish had won three straight games since late May. Lefty starter Scott Olsen posted his first victory since July 19 after going winless in nine straight starts. Olsen allowed one run over six innings on the mound as the Marlins won their 11th of 13 games against the Nats this year.
Cantu's homer made Florida the first team in Major League Baseball history to have four infielders with 25 or more homers in a single season. Cantu joins first baseman Mike Jacobs (32), second baseman Dan Uggla (30) and Hanley Ramirez (29). With 15 games left on the schedule, the Marlins have an outside chance to put four infielders on the diamond with 30 or more homers in a season. Ramirez will almost certainly reach that mark, but Cantu will need to average a longball every three games to join the circle.
With the win, the Marlins raised their record to 75-72, good for third place in the National League East, eight games behind the 82-63 New York Mets and five in back of the 80-67 Philadelphia Phillies. The Chicago Cubs lead the NL Central at 88-58, while the Los Angeles Dodgers top the West Division with a 75-71 record.

Whenever it seems the Tampa Bay Rays might be starting to fold under the pressure to maintain their American League East leadership, someone steps up to give the Rays a boost and keep them on top of the standings. Last Wednesday night in Boston, it was Carlos Pena.
One evening after the Rays had evened their three-game series with the Red Sox at Fenway Park with a thrilling 5-4 win over Boston in which Tampa Bay closer Troy Percival recorded his 28th save, the two teams were knotted up in a 1-1 bout that lasted into the 14th inning. With two out in the top of the frame, the Rays' Akinori Iwamura and Rocco Baldelli both singled off Boston reliever Mike Timlin. Then Pena stepped up to the plate and, after taking the first pitch for a ball, launched a towering drive over Fenway's fabled Green Monster in left field for his 28th homer to put Tampa Bay up 4-1.
In the bottom of the 14th, Percival came in from the bullpen, but clearly didn't have it, allowing a leadoff double to Jacoby Ellsbury followed by walks to Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz to load the bases. Percival left the game with a stiff back, and it was up to Jason Hammel to stem the Boston tide. Hammel got the job done, allowing a Kevin Youkilis sacrifice fly to right field that scored Ellsbury from third for Youkilis' 100th RBI of the year, then striking out Jason Bay and inducing a game-ending flyout to center by Alex Cora. Their 4-2 victory meant that for the first time since 1999, Tampa Bay has won a series in Boston and was the Rays' fifth win in their last six games against the Red Sox.
As a result, Tampa Bay stretched their season record to 87-57, good for a two-game lead in the AL East over the 86-60 Red Sox. In the American League Central, the 81-65 Chicago White Sox are one game ahead of the 80-66 Minnesota Twins; and they're printing playoff tickets in Los Angeles, where the 89-57 Angels hold a 17.5-game lead over 72-75 Texas in the AL West, clinching a playoff berth last week in baseball's most lopsided “race.”

A 22-year-old pitcher in Japan has raised eyebrows on both sides of the Pacific Ocean by declaring his desire to bypass Japanese baseball's amateur draft next month in order to pursue a major league career in North America. Junichi Tazawa parlayed a 93 MPH fastball along with a forkball and slider into four wins in five appearances for Nippon Oil during Japan's recent intercity corporate championship tournament, as Nippon Oil won their first title in 13 years. Tazawa was expected to be at or near the top of the October 30 draft to be held among Japan's 12 top pro teams.
Tazawa's move is unusual in Japanese baseball, where players usually play pro ball domestically before testing the waters of American ball. While Japanese players under contract to teams in the Central or Pacific Leagues have certain limits to overcome in order to play in America, amateur players there are free to sign with any professional team without having to enter the draft on either side of the Pacific. Only Kazuhito Tadano and Mac Suzuki have made their major league debuts without having begun their careers in Japan.
Representatives from all 12 Japanese teams reaffirmed their ability to pick Tazawa regardless of his wishes. However, NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato said the rules allow Tazawa to bypass signing domestically in order to play in America. Kato is expected to meet with Major League Baseball officials in New York Tuesday to discuss the matter.

Although there was a lot of offseason talk that last year's runners-up Doosan Bears and an improved Kia Tigers were poised to make a run at the Korea Baseball Organization pennant in 2008, the defending champion SK Wyverns jumped in front early and are cruising to what looks to be an easy regular season title and favorite status in the four-team playoffs. The Wyverns are 69-36 with about two weeks left on the schedule, on pace to better last year's 73-48-5 record that was good enough for the regular season crown. Doosan is 9.5 games back in second with a 60-46 mark.
While the Wyverns don't have a lot of power in their lineup, they do have four players batting .300 or better with 49 to 65 RBIs each. The most productive hitter has been Park Jae-hong, who's hitting .325 with a team-high 16 homers and 65 ribbies. SK's balanced lineup is matched by a solid pitching staff that includes ace Kim Kwang-hyun, who has a 14-4 record with a 2.74 ERA and 116 strikeouts and closer Chae Byeong-yong, who has 20 saves and a 2.79 ERA. In all the Wyverns are leading the KBO in batting, runs scored and ERA. That's usually a good harbinger for a pennant, and SK appears to have all the pieces in place for a repeat of last year's title run.

After struggling to find a groove out of the bullpen this year, former big league pitcher Luther Hackman tossed seven scoreless innings for the President Lions last Wednesday in a Chinese Professional Baseball League game against the Sinon Bulls. Hackman played for the St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies prior to moving to Taiwan this season, where he's had a tough go for the league-leading Lions. Before last Wednesday's 3-0 shutout, the 6'4” righty had a 5.84 ERA in Taiwan (thanks in part to 14 walks coughed up over 24 innings), but his five-hit stint gave hope that he's found his groove as the Lions find themselves locked up with the La New Bears in a neck-and-neck race for the regular season flag. Hackman's fastball has been clocked at 93-94 MPH, among the fastest in Taiwan.

After blowing a 3-1 series lead over Danesi Nettuno and being forced to play a seventh and deciding game, T&A San Marino outlasted Nettuno 7-5 last Saturday to win the 2008 Italian Series before 7,000 fans in Nettuno, who gave both teams a standing ovation at the conclusion of the final contest.
Nettuno jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on Giuseppe Mazzanti's first-inning RBI double, but San Marino came back with a four-run third inning, keyed by Francesco Imperali's three-run homer after Mac DiBiase tied the game with an RBI double. San Marino padded their lead on DiBiase's two-run homer in the seventh and a single run in the eighth to go ahead by a 7-1 count.
However, Nettuno would not die quietly, scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth to make it 7-4, but Carlos Duran grounded out with two runners on to end the game and season for both teams. Horacio Estrada took the win for San Marino by allowing just two runs on three hits in 5.1 innings. Nettuno's Nelson Cruz was pinned with the loss after letting in four runs on seven hits and three walks in four frames.

Defending champions Corendon Kinheim and DOOR Neptunas have both clinched home field advantage for the Dutch National League playoffs following wins last Thursday night. Kinheim held off the surprisingly plucky RCH MediaMonks 2-1 while Neptunas had a much easier time of it, beating Sparta/Feyenoord by an 8-1 count. Corendon holds first place in the Dutch League with a 31-9 record, one game ahead of 30-10 Neptunas, who are riding a six-game winning streak. Sparta/Feyenoord fell to 20-20 on the season with their loss to Neptunas, while MediaMonks dropped to 7-33 despite their strong showing against the league leaders.
There's a dandy battle on for third place in The Netherlands, too, as the 27-13 Amsterdam Pirates are trying to hold off the 26-13 Konica Minolta Pioniers. Amsterdam overtook the Pioniers for the number 3 slot Thursday night with a 6-3 win over Konica Minolta. The top four teams have already qualified for the Dutch playoffs, so the remaining regular season action is for postseason seeding.
Elsewhere in the Hoofdklasse on Thursday night, Mr. Crocker HCAW topped ADO 5-1 after trailing 1-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. HCAW is now 14-26, while ADO brings up the bottom of the standings at 4-35.

The London Mets successfully defended their British National League title last weekend in Croydon, defeating the Richmond Flames 11-4 in the finals September 7 for their second straight pennant. Originally, the finals were scheduled to be a best-of-three series at the Roundshaw Playgrounds, but bad field conditions from rain made the final a single nine-inning game between the top two teams.
One day earlier, London advanced from the semifinals with a resounding 15-1 win over the Menwith Hill Patriots, while Richmond bested the Manchester Eagles 10-3. In the final game, however, the Mets would not be denied as they capped a season-long dominance of British baseball with their seven-run victory. In all, London lost just one of 26 games during the season while outscoring their opponents by an aggregate margin of 265-58, including the playoffs.

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