D. J. Houlton did everything he could to keep the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks within striking distance of the Yomiuri Giants.
He was reduced to a spectator in the eighth inning, but teammate Alex Cabrera made sure his efforts didn’t go to waste.
Cabrera hit a come-from-behind two-run double in the eighth to break up a pitcher’s duel between Houlton and Giants starter Shun Tono in the Hawks’ 2-1 win on Thursday at Tokyo Dome.
“It was the top of the eighth, two outs and I was looking for the one pitch I could hit,” Cabrera said. “I was looking outside and wanted to make good contact. I hit a line drive and thought it would be a hit right away.”
The Hawks continued their unbeaten run to start the interleague season while sending the Giants to their fourth straight loss.
“It feels good,” Hawks manager Koji Akiyama said. “We’ll just keep taking it one game at a time and hope we can continue to avoid the losses.”
Houlton (6-1) continued his strong start to the year with seven innings of one-run ball. He struck out five, walked one and retired the final 10 batters he faced.
“Houlton kept us in the game and it came to a point where we had the chance to turn it around in the eighth,” Akiyama said. “With Cabrera’s clutch hit we were able to do that.”
Houlton was unflappable throughout most of his outing, with Giants slugger Alex Ramirez’s RBI single in the first inning the only blemish on his night.
That run remained the difference between the squads heading into the eighth.
Tono (1-5) struck out the first two batters of the inning, then gave up a single to Yuya Hasegawa. Pinch hitter Nobuhiko Matsunaka followed with a single to put runners on first and second.
Sensing the chance to take control of the game, Akiyama sent Cabrera to the plate to pinch hit for Houlton.
“I thought he was the perfect guy to be in that spot,” Houlton said.
Cabrera came through with a line drive to right-center, that landed just out of the reach of Toshimasa Konta and allowed both runners to score.
Tono went home the loser despite a mostly superb night on the mound. The Giants starter was easily having his best performance of the season, before running into trouble in the eighth. He allowed two runs on five hits and struck out 12 in 7 2/3 innings.
The Giants didn’t do their starter any favors at the plate. Yomiuri’s offense was held to one run for the fourth straight game. Daisuke Fujimura finished 3-for-4 at the plate and was the only Giant with more than one hit.