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Darvish outduels Tanaka for 13th victory

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles did a nice job putting a run on the board first against mighty Yu Darvish.

That was all they were able to do on the night.

Darvish allowed four hits and a run over the distance to outpitch Rakuten’s star hurler Masahiro “Ma-kun” Tanaka as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters earned a 3-1 win at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday.

Veteran Atsunori Inaba smacked a tie-breaking two-run homer in the fourth in support of Darvish, who fanned nine batters.

With the win, the Fighters have recorded their second six-game winning streak of the season.

“I wasn’t aware (of Tanaka) at all,” said Darvish (13-2), who was triumphant for the fifth straight outing and earned his NPB-leading 13th victory of the year. “I was only trying to focus on every inning.”

The game drew a large crowd of 44,826 to the Big Egg, as the two star pitchers faced off on the final day before the All-Star series, which start on Friday.

It was the fourth time — and first in two years — that they took the mound in the same game. Darvish had won two of the previous three, and made it 3-1 against Ma-kun with his latest win.

It was Rakuten that put a run on the board first.

With two men on in the second inning, Fuminori Yokogawa came up with an RBI hit to center.

But the Fighters offense responded in a bigger way.

After Sho Nakata tied it at 1-1 with an RBI single, Inaba smacked a no-doubt-about-it two-run homer into the right-field bleachers to make it 3-1 in the fourth.

“It feels great to have hit against such a great pitcher,” Inaba said.

That was more than enough for Darvish.

From the third inning on, the right-handed fireballer gave up only one hit and a walk.

“I was expecting the score would be like 3-1, 3-2 or even 1-0 before the game,” Fighters manager Masataka Nashida said. “He gave up the run quickly, but shut them out in the rest of the game really well.”

Tanaka (9-3) allowed three runs, two earned, on five hits and walked two.