SENDAI – In a rematch of high school rivals, Masahiro Tanaka left little doubt about who reigns supreme in 2011.
Tanaka pitched his 10th complete game of the season in Tohoku Rakuten’s 4-1 victory against Hokkaido Nippon Ham rookie Yuki Saito and the Fighters on Saturday afternoon.
His bid for his fourth shutout of the season ended when he walked Tomohiro Nioka — his only free pass of the day — with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning.
Tanaka (15-4) matched a career high with his 15th win and struck out 12 batters, including Yang Dai-kang to end the game in front of a near-capacity crowd of 20,809 at Kleenex Stadium.
“We had a winning streak, and then we dipped into a small losing skid, so I was determined to win this game when I pitched today no matter what,” said Tanaka, who yielded five hits.
He retired the side in order in the opening frame and Takeshi Yamasaki hit a sacrifice fly off Saito (5-4) with one out in the bottom half for a 1-0 lead.
“Since I turned pro, people have wanted to see this matchup and today we could realize it and I am so happy that so many fans came out to watch us.”
Bobby Scales gave the Fighters a chance with a leadoff single in the sixth, advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt and a groundout, but Tanaka struck out Eiichi Koyano to end the threat.
The Eagles then added three runs for insurance in the bottom half of the inning.
Saito gave up 10 hits, struck out one and walked one in his first career complete game.
“I have to admit that this is the difference four years makes,” said Saito, who enrolled at Waseda University after completing high school. “I now know the value of having to work hard to close the gap between us in baseball.”
Despite the win, Tanaka was disappointed that he allowed a run. His career-high scoreless innings streak was stopped at 24 innings.
“I could pitch pretty well and shut them down, but I am really frustrated about the ninth inning. I really wanted to keep them scoreless, so I’ll just do my best next time.”
The last time Tanaka and Saito faced each other was five years ago in a classic pitchers’ duel in the final of the National High School Baseball Championship at Koshien Stadium.
The game remained tied 1-1 after 15 innings, resulting in the first rematch in the tournament final since Matsuyama Shogyo High School and Misawa High School met in 1969.
Saito won that matchup, holding Komadai Tomakomai to three runs in his fourth complete game in as many days and struck out Tanaka to end the game, giving Waseda Jitsugyo its first-ever summer title.
Hawks 18, Marines 3
At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Seiichi Uchikawa went 3-for-4 with five RBIs, Shota Oba (7-1) pitched three-run ball over seven effective innings and PL leader Fukuoka Softbank clobbered Chiba Lotte in a 22-hit onslaught.
Uchikawa had a sac fly in the first off Bill Murphy (2-5), hit an RBI double in the third and capped a four-run fourth with a three-run drive. Nobuhiro Matsuda had four hits and two RBIs.
The Hawks became the first team in baseball to reach 70 wins. The last-place Marines lost their 60th game of the year.
Chiba used six pitchers in the game. Murphy lasted 3 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits and five runs — three earned. He walked one and struck out two. He also hit a batter.
Lions 7, Buffaloes 5
At Kobe’s Hotto Motto Field, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Takeya Nakamura both homered, Takayuki Kishi (5-7) yielded three runs in six-plus innings and Seibu beat Orix to win its third in a row.
Lee Seung Yeop had a two-run drive that was too little, too late for the Buffaloes in the ninth.
Evan MacLane (3-3) was chased after allowing four runs in 2 2/3 innings.
Swallows 6, Tigers 2
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Shingo Kawabata opened the scoring with a three-run homer in the third inning, leading Yakult over Hanshin for its fifth straight victory.
Masanori Ishikawa (9-7) allowed two runs in five innings for the win. Yasutomo Kubo (7-6) gave up five runs in 3 2/3 innings.
Dragons 4, BayStars 3
At Nagoya Dome, Tony Blanco singled in the go-ahead run in a three-run eighth inning as Chunichi rallied to beat Yokohama.
Hirokazu Ibata’s two-run single tied the game at 3-3 in the eighth. Shuichi Murata and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo homered for the BayStars, who have lost five straight.