Orix Buffaloes manager Terry Collins said that Tuffy Rhodes “is swinging the bat really well right now.”
Chiba Lotte Marines starter Hiroyuki Kobayashi can sure attest to that.
Rhodes hit two home runs and the rest of the Orix lineup chipped in with some timely hitting as the Buffaloes defeated the Marines 9-3 on Saturday afternoon at Tokyo Dome.
Collins said before the game he was in favor of being the “home team” at the Big Egg for the sake of Buffaloes fans who can’t always make it Kobe or Osaka, where Orix normally plays its home games. Rhodes made sure they got their money’s worth by going 2-for-4 with two homers and four RBIs.
“Tuffy for some reason, he swings the bat good here,” Collins said. “Maybe he sees the ball better.”
Rhodes’ second home run, a three-run shot in the fifth, was the catalyst of a six-run inning that spelled the beginning of the end for the Marines. The Orix slugger is batting .303 with seven home runs this season.
“He works his trade,” Collins said. “He works at being a good hitter. He’s been swinging well.”
Rhodes wasn’t alone as the Orix lineup pounded out 13 hits in the win, with seven of the Buffaloes’ nine starters recording a hit.
“(Osamu) Hamanaka had a big hit, (Keiji) Obiki had a big hit and we had some other guys that came through with some big hits,” Collins said.
It was a much needed victory for the Buffaloes, who won their second game since snapping a five-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory over the Softbank Hawks on Wednesday.
“Right now our team is not playing well,” Rhodes said. “We have high expectations. I’m not saying we should be in first place, but we should at least be in ‘A-class’ (top three)”.
Starter Chihiro Kaneko got the job done on the mound, holding Lotte to three runs on eight hits over seven innings. A bit shaky at times, Kaneko (2-2) struck out three to pick up the win.
“He had to pitch today,” Collins said. “Because he didn’t have his good stuff today he had to work. I think that’s how you get better as a young pitcher. The days you don’t have your good stuff you gotta work hard.”
The Buffaloes batted around in the fifth inning, to chase Kobayashi (1-3), who gave up eight runs — seven earned — on 10 hits while striking out five.
“Kobayashi doesn’t make many mistakes,” Collins said. “He’s really good against us. Everybody has an off day and I think today was an off day for him. Because he’s really been tough on us.”
Orix got to Kobayashi early, taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI single by Alex Cabrera. Benny Agbayani gave the Chiba faithful something to cheer for in the second with a two-run shot to left that gave the Marines a 2-1 lead.
Rhodes tied the game with a solo homer in the third before putting the Buffaloes ahead with his three-run job in the fifth.
“It’s my job,” Rhodes said. “If I knock a guy in with home runs or hits, whatever it takes.”
The bottom half of the Orix lineup got into the act later in the inning with Hamanaka, Takeshi Hidaka and Obiki, each hitting RBI singles to extend the lead to 8-2.
The Marines cut into the lead on an RBI single from Shunichi Nemoto in the seventh but an RBI double by Tomotaka Sakaguchi pushed the lead back to six.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Buffaloes in the second game of the series where they are scheduled to send Kazuki Kondo (2-1) to the hill to oppose one of the top pitchers in the league, Yoshihisa Naruse (2-1).
Fighters top Hawks
SAPPORO (Kyodo) Lefty Shugo Fujii limited the damage to one run in 5 2/3 innings and Yoshihiro Sato hit a two-run drive for his first career home run as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters downed the Softbank Hawks 4-2 on Saturday afternoon.
Fujii (1-1) yielded seven hits with two strikeouts and one walk and Micheal Nakamura pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save.
Rookie Shota Oba (2-2) allowed four runs on six hits in six innings for Softbank, which lost its third straight.
Sato’s drive to right gave Nippon Ham a 2-0 lead in the second and Terrmel Sledge added a solo blast that extended the advantage to 4-1 in the sixth at Sapporo Dome.
Swallows 4, Tigers 1
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Aaron Guiel hit a two-run double and Kyohei Muranaka pitched seven innings of one-run ball as Tokyo Yakult ended leader Hanshin’s winning streak at five games.
The Swallows took a 3-0 lead in the first inning after Guiel doubled in two runs and scored on a single by Ryuji Miyade off Minoru Iwata (2-1).
Muranaka (2-1) allowed two hits, walked four and struck out five.
South Korean closer Lim Chang Yong worked the ninth for his fourth save.
Dragons 10, BayStars 5
At Yokohama Stadium, Masahiro Araki had a two-out single and Hirokazu Ibata and Lee Byung Kyu followed with RBI hits, breaking a 1-1 tie in the third inning as Chunichi beat the BayStars.
Carp 1, Giants 0
At Hiroshima Stadium, left-hander Ken Takahashi (2-1) won a pitching duel against Hiroshi Kisanuki, throwing his first shutout in five years to help the Carp snap a four-game losing streak in a win over Yomiuri.