The Yomiuri Giants and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters ended their interleague series 2-2, but it was probably the Giants who felt as if they won it.
Having come up with just a single hit and down by two runs, Yomiuri finally showed some resistance against Fighters ace Yu Darvish, scoring three runs on five consecutive hits in the sixth to edge the Fighters 3-2 in front of a crowd of 44,887 at Tokyo Dome on Saturday night.
“We were expecting it’d be a three-run game,” Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara said after the game with a sigh of relief. “And we actually made the game a three-run game and were able to win it. It was quite big.”
The Central League-leading Giants dropped their first two games against the Fighters earlier in the ongoing interleague season at Sapporo Dome, but came back to equal the series at two apiece with consecutive victories at home.
“We lost two in Hokkaido, and wanted to do something down here,” Hara said. “We’re relieved that we finished the series at 2-2.”
The Fighters got on the scoreboard first as Yoshio Itoi captured starter Tetsuya Utsumi’s slider off the left field wall, driving home Eiichi Koyano in the second inning.
“I was able to hit the slider nicely,” Itoi said. “It wasn’t the best hit. But that went further than I expected.”
Yomiuri first baseman Lee Seung Yeop, who batted eighth in the lineup, led off with a walk in the third, but Utsumi failed on a sacrifice bunt attempt and Hayato Sakamoto hit into a double play.
Fighters outfielder Atsunori Inaba blasted a high fastball from a 3-1 in the count into the right-center bleachers for a solo shot (his eighth of the season) to make the score 2-0 in the sixth.
Meanwhile, Darvish, a Pacific League monthly MVP winner in May, showed off his usual dominant style of pitching from the beginning, and hadn’t allowed a hit since the second inning. And the two-run lead was seemingly big enough for him and the PL frontrunners
But the Giants successfully capitalized on the Fighters’ inattention and put up an unexpected assault on Darvish, as if they didn’t want let the right-hander take all the heroics.
In the bottom of the sixth, pinch hitter Takahito Kudo singled off his ex-teammate, followed by another from Sakamoto. Then the Giants benefited from three straight RBI hits by Matsumoto, Michihiro Ogasawara and Alex Ramirez to go ahead 3-2.
The Fighters attempted to tie the game in the eighth when they put runners on first and second with one down. No. 5 hitter Eiichi Koyano cleanly hit a single to center off reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi. But Matsumoto made a critical throw from the outfield and killed second base runner Inaba at home.
Kiyoshi Toyoda and Yamaguchi relieved, and Marc Kroon closed out the game in the final inning for his tenth save.
Darvish (7-2), who had won seven straight outings, took his first loss since Opening Day, when he lost to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Sapporo. He went the distance, giving up six hits and three runs.
Utsumi (2-3) received his second win of the season. He allowed six hits and two runs over six innings
“Darvish is not only Japan’s ace, but he is an ace of the world in a sense,” Hara said. “But Utsumi confidently faced him, and it was huge for us to grab the win.”
Utsumi said that he was nervous to pitch in the same game as Darvish, because even giving up a few runs could be costly when the Fighters ace takes the mound.
“I was different mentally (on the mound),” he said. “Because (Darvish) was putting pressure on me by just throwing.
“I thought that I couldn’t give up irrelevant runs because of him.
It was the first time for Darvish to yield more than three runs since the opening game.
“My fastballs were better than last time,” Darvish said bluntly. “The bottom line is, they managed to come up those hits (in the sixth). I just have to put this behind. . .
Lions hold off ‘Stars
YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Takumi Kuriyama homered twice and Takeya Nakamura hit his Pacific League-leading 19th home run, leading the Seibu Lions to a 12-7 win over the Yokohama BayStars on Saturday.
Seibu won its fourth straight game backed by five homers and extended its unbeaten streak to six, including a 12-inning tie with the Yomiuri Giants on May 30.
Nakamura hit a three-run homer in a four-run first inning in interleague play at Yokohama Stadium.
Hawks 11, Carp 1 (7)
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Hiroki Kokubo, Hidenori Tanoue and Hitoshi Tamura homered and combined for seven RBIs, leading Fukuoka Softbank to a rout of Hiroshima in a game called in the seventh inning due to rain.
Tigers 7, Buffaloes 0
At Koshien Stadium, Shinobu Fukuhara diced up the opposition with 10 strikeouts en route to his first shutout of the season and helped his own cause by driving in three runs in Hanshin’s rout of Orix.
Dragons 4, Marines 4 (12)
At NaMasahiko Morino saved his team from defeat with a two-run tying single off Tadahiro Ogino with two out in the ninth inning and Chunichi played out the draw with Chiba Lotte in 12 innings.
Swallows 5, Eagles 1
At Jingu Stadium, Norichika Aoki and Shinya Miyamoto each had three hits and combined for three RBIs off Hisashi Iwakuma as Tokyo Yakult handed Tohoku Rakuten its third loss in a row and sixth in seven games.