TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters maintained their grip on the Pacific League lead on Sunday with a 6-2 come-from-behind victory over the Seibu Lions.
Sho Nakata tied the game in the sixth with a two-run homer off Lions starter Takayuki Kishi (10-11), and gave his club the lead in the seventh with a two-run double as the Fighters avoided a three-game sweep at Seibu Dome.
“If I fail to drive in runs, I get aggravated,” said the 23-year-old Nakata, who had gone 1-for-8 in the crucial series’ first two games which the Lions came from behind to win.
“It wouldn’t do for us to get swept because I failed to hit.”
The victory put 1½ games between Nippon Ham and the second-place Lions, who would have moved into first place with a win. The Fighters’ Yoshio Itoi added a two-run homer in the ninth.
Dustin Molleken (2-1), who took over for starter Masaru Nakamura in the bottom of the sixth, earned the win. After blowing late leads for two straight days, Nippon Ham’s bullpen was rock solid on Sunday, retiring 12 straight batters after Molleken walked the leadoff man in the sixth.
“They got us the last two days, so the thing today was to not get down on ourselves. We did that even though we fell behind,” said Fighters skipper Hideki Kuriyama. “Nakata was the epitome of a cleanup hitter today and the relievers were super.”
The Lions took the lead in the bottom of the first, when slugger Takeya Nakamura singled with one out and two on against Fighters starter Nakamura. The hosts made it 2-0 in the fifth, when Shogo Akiyama reached third as a result of a single, a stolen base and an error, and scored on Jose Ortiz’s two-out single.
Itoi led the Fighters’ comeback in the sixth with a leadoff double. He went to third on right fielder Yutaro Osaki’s error and scored on Nakata’s 21st homer.
“I was really looking for curveballs (from Kishi) today,” said Nakata, who hammered one for a line out in the first inning and pounded another over the fence. “I hadn’t been hitting the curve recently, and so I figured I would see one sooner or later. When it came, I really timed it well.
“More than that, however, I was laying off pitches out of the zone. That was something I needed to do and I succeeded at it.”
In the seventh, Yang Dai-kang singled off Kishi with one out after fouling a pitch off his left shin. Randy Williams entered and got one out before walking Itoi and surrendering Nakata’s two-run double.
The two teams will play twice more, on Friday and Saturday in Sapporo.
“We achieved our minimum goal here by winning two games,” said Seibu skipper Hisanobu Watanabe. “A sweep would have been nice, but the guys played their hearts out for all three games.”
Hawks at Eagles — ppd.
Buffaloes at Marines — ppd.
Giants 2, Swallows 0
At Tokyo Dome, Yomiuri’s D.J. Houlton (12-7) threw seven innings to outduel Tokyo Yakult’s Orlando Roman (9-10), and Taishi Ota, the Giants’ highly touted first-round draft pick in 2008, hit his first homer.
Roman allowed a run on five hits and four walks over six innings, while hitting a batter, and Giants veteran Yoshihito Ishii drew a bases-loaded walk for the new CL champs in the fourth inning.
Tigers 5, Dragons 2
At Koshien Stadium, Hanshin overcame a two-run deficit to avoid a sweep at the hands of Chunichi.
Takashi Toritani homered to halve the visitors’ lead in the fourth and three Tigers singled in a run apiece in the sixth inning.
Tigers cleanup hitter Ryota Arai tied it with an RBI single, Matt Murton brought home the go-ahead run and Issei Morita capped the rally with another RBI single to make a winner out of Randy Messenger (8-11), who allowed two runs in six innings.
Carp at BayStars — ppd.