Eiichi Koyano gave the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters a second chance at putting away the Orix Buffaloes.
Thanks to Kensuke Tanaka, his efforts weren’t in vain.
Koyano hit a game-tying solo home run in the ninth inning and Tanaka sealed the win with a “sayonara” single in the 12th to help the Fighters escape with a hard-fought 4-3 victory over the Orix Buffaloes on Tuesday at Tokyo Dome.
An error charged to first baseman Alex Cabrera allowed pinch hitter Yoshihiro Sato to reach second with one out in the 12th. Tanaka followed with a single off losing pitcher Masanobu Okubo that brought home the runner, giving the Pacific League leaders the win. Reliever Masanori Hayashi earned the victory for Nippon Ham.
The Fighters, who played in Tokyo for 58 years prior to their 2004 move to Sapporo, were hosting a game at Tokyo Dome for the sixth time this season. They improved to 4-2 in those games.
“This is our last series at Tokyo Dome this season,” Tanaka said. “So we hope to sweep.”
The Fighters nearly won the game in nine innings before Tuffy Rhodes almost spoiled their night.
The Buffaloes trailed 2-1 in the ninth when pinch hitter Hiroyuki Oze provided a ray of hope with a leadoff single. Rhodes did the rest with a go-ahead two-run homer later in the inning off closer Hisashi Takeda.
Orix looked primed for the upset after starter Mamoru Kishida retired the first two batters in the bottom of the ninth. He jumped ahead 1-0 in the count to Koyano before the Nippon Ham infielder saved the day with a game-tying home run to right.
Orix’s rally provided yet another hard-luck result at Tokyo Dome for starter Tomoya Yagi. The Nippon Ham hurler tossed seven-plus innings of one-run ball, allowing five hits and striking out two. He didn’t factor into the decision.
Yagi came away with a no-decision in his last start at the Big Egg as well, allowing an unearned run over six innings against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, only to have the Fighters blow the lead late.
Kishida had an up-and-down night, looking set to take the loss before Rhodes’ homer put him in line for a possible complete-game victory. He lost the opportunity after giving up Koyano’ game-tying solo shot with two outs in the ninth.
Fighters left fielder Terrmel Sledge walked to lead off the fifth and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Koyano. Yoshio Itoi followed by running out an infield hit while Sledge advanced to third.
The next batter, Shinya Tsuruoka, laid down a squeeze bunt to bring the runner home and give the Fighters a 1-0 lead.
Tanaka singled to start the sixth and scored on Takahashi’s RBI single to right later in the inning.
The teams will square off in the second game of their three-game series on Wednesday night at Tokyo Dome. Hideki Sunaga (0-0) will take the hill for the Fighters, while the Buffaloes will counter with Kazuki Kondo (5-7). The first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.
SENDAI (Kyodo) Hisashi Iwakuma won his third consecutive start, pitching seven scoreless innings in the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ 6-0 triumph over the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
Iwakuma (9-5) scattered eighth hits, struck out two and walked one. The Hawks were shut out for the first time since May 13.
Teppei Tsuchiya, who had three RBIs in a 3-for-4 outing, hit an RBI single off Hideaki Takahashi (1-2) in the first and added a two-run single in the seventh. Fernando Seguignol hit a two-run homer for the Eagles in the sixth.
Lions 1, Marines 0
At Chiba Marine Stadium, Hideaki Wakui threw a five-hitter in his third shutout of the season and Takumi Kuriyama homered as Saitama Seibu edged Chiba Lotte.
Wakui (13-4) outdueled Marines starter Hiroyuki Kobayashi (2-10), striking out 13 in a 161-pitch outing. Kuriyama went deep for the sole run in the third inning.
Giants 3, Carp 1
At Mazda Stadium, Dicky Gonzalez took a shutout into the seventh inning and contributed with a pair of singles, leading Yomiuri in a victory over Hiroshima.
The Central League-Leading Giants won their fourth straight and are undefeated in the past six games. Gonzalez (10-1) allowed six hits, struck out two and walked one in 6 1/3 innings. Kenta Maeda (5-11) took the loss.
The opening run scored on first baseman Kenta Kurihara’s throwing error in the first. Shinnosuke Abe had an RBI groundout in the fourth before Shigeyuki Furuki added an RBI double in the sixth.
Dragons 3, Tigers 1
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Chen Wei-yin limited the damage to one run in seven innings as Chunichi beat Hanshin to move a season-high 20 games above .500.
Chen (6-2) got in and out of trouble, walking four and allowing five hits. Takuya Asao threw one scoreless inning and Hitoki Iwase worked the ninth for his CL-leading 34th save.
Swallows 5, BayStars 4 (11)