The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters haven’t figured out how to handle Tuffy Rhodes yet, but they’re becoming experts at corralling the rest of the Orix Buffaloes.
Eiichi Koyano and Yoshio Itoi each drove in a pair of runs during a four-run fifth inning and the Fighters rallied to defeat the Buffaloes 8-4 in front of a crowd of 33,823 on Thursday at Tokyo Dome.
The Fighters faced a 4-1 deficit when Koyano cut the lead to one by driving in two runs with a double into right field. Koyano, who finished 2-for-4 with four RBIs, was also one of the heroes in Tuesday’s 4-3 win over Orix, hitting a game-tying solo homer in the ninth inning.
“I wasn’t worried about not hitting the ball on the sweet spot (of my bat),” Koyano said. “That’s why I was able to hit that inside pitch.
“It was a team effort. Even though Inaba-san couldn’t get a hit, he fouled off a lot of pitches,” he continued, referring to Atsunori Inaba, who bats directly before him and struck out with the bases loaded in the fifth.
“I owe my hit to the previous batters.”
Itoi completed the comeback with a go-ahead single to right that allowed two runs to score.
Rhodes hit a two-run homer early in the game to continue his mastery of the Fighters’ pitching staff. The Orix slugger seems to be at his best against Nippon Ham, batting .486 with eight home runs and 16 RBIs against the Sapporo club this year.
Rhodes homered in all three games of the series to take his season total to 15.
Fighters starter Brian Sweeney allowed four runs on seven hits and walked five over 5 1/3 innings to get the victory.
“I felt pretty good condition-wise,” Sweeney said. “I felt like I was a couple of pitches away from having a better game.”
Orix’s Yoshihisa Hirano didn’t fare much better, giving up five runs, seven hits and a walk while striking out five in five innings in the loss
“Hirano is a good pitcher,” Orix manager Daijiro Oishi said. “He just had problems with his control tonight.”
Rhodes’ homer in the first gave the Buffaloes an early 2-0 lead over the Pacific League leaders.
“It was a breaking ball I left up in the zone,” Sweeney said. “It was a bad pitch. I wish I could have that one back. He did what he was supposed to do with a hanging breaking ball.”
Orix catcher Fumihiro Suzuki led off the top of the third with a double and advanced on a single by Naoyuki Omura. Keiji Obiki followed with an RBI single and another run scored later in the inning after Rhodes grounded into a double play.
Nippon Ham shortstop Makato Kaneko got the Fighters on the board in the bottom half with a solo home run, his 10th of the season.
Koyano stepped to the plate in the fifth with two outs and the bases loaded and came through with his two-run double to make the score 4-3. After Terrmel Sledge walked to load the bases, Itoi drove in two runs with his single.
A hard-hit ball by Nippon Ham’s Toshimasa Konta in the sixth resulted in an RBI double, giving the Fighters a 6-4 lead.
The lead stretched to four in the eighth when Koyano drove in two runs with a double.
The Fighters will try to solidify their position at the top of the standings on Friday when they send ace Yu Darvish (13-4) to the mound to oppose Kazuyuki Hoashi (5-3) and the third-place Seibu Lions at Sapporo Dome.
Orix meanwhile will try to put a dent in the the second-place Fukuoka Softbank Hawks’ pennant aspirations when they return home to Skymark Stadium. Shogo Yamamoto (7-3) will get the start for the Buffaloes and the Hawks will send Justin Germano (4-2) to the hill.
Marines defeat Lions
CHIBA (Kyodo) Tadahito Iguchi and Gary Burnham Jr. drove in two runs apiece to lead the Chiba Lotte Marines to a 5-2 win over the Saitama Seibu Lions. Yoshihisa Naruse (6-5) allowed two runs and eight hits in seven innings. John Wasdin (2-3) took the loss.
Hawks 15, Eagles 8
At Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium, Hiroki Kokubo and Nobuhiko Matsunaka combined for three home runs and seven RBIs as Fukuoka Softbank avoided a three-game sweep by Tohoku Rakuten.
Carp 10, Giants 5
At Mazda Stadium, Yoshiyuki Ishihara had a tying single and Koichi Ogata added a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning as Hiroshima rallied past Yomiuri.
Dragons 9, Tigers 2
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Tony Blanco homered to ignite a six-run seventh inning as Chunichi came from behind to beat Hanshin.
BayStars 13, Swallows 2
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Daisuke Miura pitched two-run ball in his fourth complete game of the season and Seiichi Uchikawa went 3-for-5 with four RBIs as Yokohama hammered Yakult.