Future MLB Hall of Famer Randy Johnson took the mound in a Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles jersey, but the 46-year-old pitcher said his playing days are behind him.
Forty-one-year-old Takeshi Yamasaki, however, has still got something left in the tank.
Yamasaki struck one for the 40-and-over set with a go-ahead two-run single in the fifth and starter Satoshi Nagai handcuffed the Pacific League’s best team to help Rakuten defeat the Chiba Lotte Marines 8-2 on Tuesday at Tokyo Dome.
“For our offense today, (Norihiro) Nakamura kind of lightened the load with the home run early,” Eagles manager Marty Brown said. “Of course Nagai let them back in the game to tie it up.
“But we put together a good inning and Yamasaki drove in those two runs and that seemed to relax everybody a bit offensively.”
Yamasaki lined a ball back up the middle with the bases loaded and the score tied at 2-2 to give the Eagles a lead they wouldn’t give up against Lotte’s Yuki Karakawa. Teppei Tsuchiya added an insurance run with an RBI double later in the inning.
Yamasaki finished 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. It was a good performance out of the slugger, who has gotten off to a rough start (batting .200 with three homers and 14 RBIs) this season.
“He’s been working really hard,” Brown said of Yamasaki. “He’s very frustrated by the fact he hasn’t been hitting the ball very well. He’s trying to get back into consistent condition. That’s the thing. One day, he’ll go out and feel pretty good. Next day, he’ll go out and he doesn’t have his timing and he doesn’t feel good at all.
“He’s working hard. If he’s right, he can be a game-changer. We’re being very patient with him and we’re putting a lot of confidence in him.”
Nakamura’s only hit of the night was a two-run homer in the second and Motohiro Shima added a two-run shot in the eighth. Daisuke Kusano also drove in a run.
The highlight of the night was Johnson throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, wearing a No. 51 Eagles jersey with his named printed on the back.
Before the game, Johnson met with Carp manager Brown and took time out to dispense some words of wisdom to Eagles hurler Masahiro Tanaka.
“He’s a young player, a young pitcher,” Johnson said. “Gave him some encouragement. I played for 22 years in the major leagues. So as a young player, you’re going to have some good moments and bad. Just try to remain positive all the time and work hard.”
The recently retired Big Unit, who played for six different teams, is a virtual lock for Cooperstown, having amassed a 303-166 record during a career that included five Cy Young Awards. Nagai (2-2) took over on the mound once Johnson was done and had a solid night against the Marines. He allowed a pair of runs on eight hits and struck out three over 7 2/3 innings for the win.
“I think Nagai when he needed to make a pitch today, he did,” Brown said. “He got out of himself a little bit and started overthrowing at one point. Then he collected himself back and figured out he didn’t need to do that.
“Overall, it was a really good game out of Nagai.”
Karakawa (2-2) gave up five runs on six hits and finished with one strikeout in the losing effort.
Marines leadoff man Tsuyoshi Nishioka led the charge at the plate, finishing 4-for-5, and Kim Tae Kyun and Tomoya Satozaki each drove in a run.
The two teams resume their series on Wednesday in Koriyama, Fukushima Pref.
Buffaloes 4, Fighters 3
Lions 8, Hawks 2
Tigers 5, Carp 0
At Koshien Stadium, Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi pitched six shutout innings and Keisuke Kano hit a three-run homer as Hanshin blanked Hiroshima.
Giants 2, BayStars 1
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Lee Seung Yeop drew a bases-loaded walk to drive in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning as Yomiuri edged Yokohama for its third win in four games.
Dragons 3, Swallows 2
At Nagoya Dome, Kenta Asakura allowed two unearned runs in six-plus innings and Chunichi escaped for a narrow win over Tokyo Yakult to snap a three-game losing skid.