OSAKA – Chihiro Kaneko’s comeback came too soon for Fukuoka Softbank.
The right-hander, pitching his first game for Orix since June 16, threw seven shutout innings on Friday in the Buffaloes’ 3-1 win over the Hawks at Kyocera Dome.
The Hawks’ defeat left them as the last seed in the Pacific League Climax Series. The Hawks’ defense of their Japan Series championship will now begin at Seibu Dome on Oct. 13. The winner of that best-of-three series will travel to Sapporo Dome to take on the PL champion Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Kaneko (4-3), who had lower back and shoulder issues in the preseason and was limited to one start in April, was sidelined again in June with stiffness in his right shoulder.
“I had prepared myself for the possibility that I would pitch before the end of the season,” said the 28-year-old Kaneko, who was pitching for the ninth time this season. “Before the game, I was quite nervous, but once we took the field, it was just like usual.”
The Buffaloes took a 2-0 lead on solo homers by Lee Dae Ho in the fourth and Yuki Miyazaki in the sixth, both coming off Softbank southpaw Kenji Otonari (12-8).
Keeping with the comeback theme, Tomotaka Sakaguchi came off the bench to single in Orix’s third run in his first at-bat since May 17, when he hurt himself while attempting a catch at Tokyo Dome.
The Hawks, too, welcomed back a player. Slugging third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda returned to Softbank’s starting lineup for the first time since he broke a finger in his right hand on Aug. 1.
Eagles 7, Fighters 3
At Sapporo Dome, Tohoku Rakuten took a hammer to Hokkaido Nippon Ham starter Yuki Saito (5-8), scoring six runs off him in 4 2/3 innings as the Fighters’ idol made his first start in the PL since July 29.
Eagles starter Manabu Mima (8-10) allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings for his first win since Aug. 29. Young Fighters slugger Sho Nakata took the right-hander deep in the sixth for a two-run homer, his 24th of the season.
Giants 8, BayStars 1
At Tokyo Dome, Yomiuri snapped a five-game winless streak with a thrashing of last-place Yokohama. Captain Shinnosuke Abe, the Central League’s player of the month for September, snapped a 1-1 tie in the third inning with a two-run double. Former BayStar Shuichi Murata added an RBI single, his first hit since Sept. 18, and homered in the seventh.
Tetsuya Utsumi (15-6) allowed a run in six innings to earn the win. The BayStars’ Alex Ramirez went 1-for-4 against his former team, leaving him seven hits shy of 2,000 in Japan with four games left to play in the season.
Carp 4, Dragons 1
At Nagoya Dome, Hiroshima’s Bryan Bullington (7-14) allowed an unearned run in six innings against Chunichi for his first victory since Aug. 5, while Carp closer Kam Mickolio completed the proceedings with his 20th save.
Chunichi, which is tuning up for the first stage of the CL Climax Series, used eight pitchers Hiroshima.
Swallows 2, Tigers 0
At Koshien Stadium, Swallows ace Masanori Ishikawa (8-11) threw eight innings and Tony Barnette completed a three-hit shutout of Hanshin by retiring the side in order in the ninth for his 33rd save.
Tigers teenager Akira Iwamoto (2-1) allowed the first run of his brief career, when Yakult scraped out a third-inning run on a walk, a sacrifice and a groundout. The 19-year-old had worked 14 straight innings without allowing a run.