TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks have struggled for much of the season, but the reigning Japan Series champions finally seem to be putting everything together just as the pennant race is about to turn the final corner.
The Hawks offense came through late and extended their winning streak to seven with an 8-2 win over the Seibu Lions at Seibu Dome on Wednesday night.
The victory put the Hawks half a game behind the second-place Lions and 1½ games behind the first-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the Pacific League standings.
“We’ve been playing well,” Softbank skipper Koji Akiyama said of the winning streak after the game. “Our starting pitchers have done a great job and everybody’s playing with high concentration.
“Obviously, it’s too early (to talk about the pennant). We’re playing one game at a time, and that’s working out for us right now.”
No. 3 hitter Yuya Hasegawa went 4-for-5 with three RBIs and a homer, and Toru Hosokawa was 2-for-4 with a homer for Softbank.
Meanwhile, southpaw Hiroki Yamada (7-8) chipped in from the mound for the Kyushu club. He was solid as he allowed six hits and a run to pick up his first victory in two months.
With the game tied at 1-1 in the top of the sixth, Softbank put up five runs, helped by a three-run dinger by ex-Lion Hosokawa.
“When I made contact, it felt pretty good. But I didn’t expect it to go over the fences,” Hosokawa said of his second homer of the season. “But it did go far.”
Hasegawa added two more runs with a two-run shot in the seventh.
Seibu starter Yusei Kikuchi (2-1) took the loss, but he seemed fine and gave up the runs on some unlucky hits. The 21-year-old southpaw allowed six hits and three runs (one earned) in 5⅓ innings.
“I should have been more tenacious in the sixth,” Kikuchi said. “I feel really sorry for the team.”
Seibu’s Hideto Asamura belted a solo homer in the ninth.
Buffs beat Fighters
Orix’s Shinji Takahashi highlighted a four-run first inning with a three-run double on Wednesday as the Buffaloes scored a season-high number of runs in a 13-8 thumping of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
A day after the Fighters bludgeoned the Buffaloes 13-3, it was Orix’s turn as Takahashi, who hit a two-run homer in the third, went 4-for-5 against the club he played for from 1997-2011. Evan MacLane (5-4) allowed five runs in five-plus innings to get the win as Orix won for the first time since Aug. 12.
Takahashi, who was sold to Yomiuri in May 2011, had just three RBIs in 44 at-bats as a Giant. The 34-year-old three-time PL All-Star was released after the season and signed with Orix as a free agent.
“Each and every day is my last chance,” said Takahashi, who was well received by the Fighters fans. “What an amazing and warm welcome, that gives you strength.”
The Fighters battled back to close within two runs in a six-run sixth inning, but Pacific League RBI leader Lee Dae Ho hit a three-run double in the seventh to put the game out of reach.
“We had to end that losing streak,” Lee said. “It was a big game.”
Eagles 7, Marines 3
At Kleenex Stadium, Tohoku Rakuten’s Hiroaki Shimauchi broke a scoreless tie in the second inning when he drove in a run with a single in his first pro at-bat, and the Golden Eagles held on to defeat Chiba Lotte and snap a four-game losing streak.
Leading by two runs in the eighth, Shimauchi doubled in two runs to ice it. Eagles right-hander Manabu Mima (7-6) got the win after allowing three runs on eight hits.
Carp 3, BayStars 0
At Yokohama Stadium, Hiroshima rookie Yusuke Nomura (9-6) allowed five singles and two walks over seven innings as the Carp beat Yokohama to snap a four-game losing skid. Right-handers Takeru Imamura and Kam Mickolio completed the seven-hit shutout.
Brad Eldred, who missed Tuesday’s loss against the BayStars with right-elbow pain, singled in a run in the first, and Yoshiyuki Ishihara doubled in two more in the fourth. BayStars southpaw Shugo Fujii (7-3) allowed three runs in six innings to suffer his first loss since June 5.
Dragons 5, Tigers 2
At Kyocera Dome, Chunichi secured a winning record over Hanshin for the fourth straight season as ace Kazuki Yoshimi (10-4) allowed two runs on 11 hits over seven innings.
Masahiko Morino and Takeshi Yamasaki each singled home a run in the top of the first inning, and Hirokazu Ibata homered with Morino on base in the third. Ibata added an RBI single in the ninth for good measure.
Giants 5, Swallows 3