/

Nishiguchi-led Lions climb into first place

by Jason Coskrey

TOKOROZAWA — There’s still some life left in Fumiya Nishiguchi’s right arm.

It’s not as easy to say the same for the Orix Buffaloes’ fading playoff hopes.

The 37-year-old Nishiguchi pitched like a player half his age and corralled the Buffaloes long enough for the Seibu Lions to strike the decisive blow in the seventh inning of their 3-0 win on Thursday at Seibu Dome.

“I’m happy that I could pitch well today,” Nishiguchi said. “This was an important game and I’m glad the team could win.”

Nishiguchi (3-2) turned in another good outing for the Lions, throwing six shutout innings while allowing five hits and striking out five.

The Seibu veteran is 2-0 in his last three starts, allowing one run over 17 2/3 innings. Both wins came against the Buffaloes.

“I’m taking it game by game,” Nishiguchi said. “I’m just happy I could pitch well today.”

Lions designated hitter Tomoaki Sato helped make sure Nishiguchi’s efforts paid off by driving in the game’s first run with an RBI double in the seventh. Ryo Sakata followed with an RBI single before Buffaloes starter Hiroshi Kisanuki walked in a run to give the Lions a 3-0 advantage.

“Nishiguchi-san was pitching well,” Sato said. “So I wanted to get a hit in that situation.”

The Seibu bullpen made the lead hold up, with closer Brian Sikorski taking care of things in the ninth for his league-leading 31st save.

Sato was 2-for-2 with an RBI for the Lions and shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima finished 2-for-4.

Seibu’s win propels the Saitama club past the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, who lost to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, and into the top spot in the Pacific League standings. The pennant winner earns a first-round bye and home-field advantage in next month’s PL Climax Series.

“It’s important because we play well here,” Sikorski said.

The Buffaloes entered the game with a faint shot at reaching the playoffs. Their chances took a hit with the loss as the league’s top three all won, leaving Orix 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot with 20 left to play.

The Buffaloes squandered a golden opportunity in the first inning, loading the bases with one away and PL home run leader Takahiro Okada at the plate. Nishiguchi made sure they came away empty-handed by striking out Okada and Hirotoshi Kitagawa to end the threat.

Aarom Baldiris had the best night at the plate for Orix, finishing 2-for-3.

Kisanuki (9-10) pitched well before falling apart in the seventh. He allowed three runs on eight hits over 5 1/3 innings.

Ono lifts Fighters

SAPPORO (Kyodo) Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s Shota Ono hit a tiebreaking homer leading off the bottom of the fourth inning and Masaru Takeda (12-6) held the damage to one run in eight innings against the Softbank Hawks to extend his personal-best winning streak to seven starts in a 2-1 win on Thursday.

Marines 4, Eagles 2

At Chiba Marine Stadium, Yoshihisa Naruse took a shutout into the eighth inning and Chiba Lotte beat Tohoku Rakuten to move into a share of second place.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Tigers 6, BayStars 3

At Koshien Stadium, pinch hitter Shinjiro Hiyama came through in the clutch with a bases-loaded two-run single with two outs in the sixth inning as Hanshin rallied for a victory over Yokohama.

Dragons 6, Carp 0

At Nagoya Dome, Maximo Nelson threw his first shutout in Japan as Chunichi swept Hiroshima in three games.