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Imae delivers game-changing double for Marines

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Toshiaki Imae threw one fist in the air as his face lit up with the smile Chiba Lotte Marines fans have come to love over the years, and everyone else at QVC Marine Field, with the exception of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, was probably smiling right along with him.

Imae hit a tiebreaking, three-run double in the third inning, and the Marines held on the rest of the way to beat the Hawks 5-2 on Saturday in front of a crowd of 21,038 on a mostly sunny afternoon in Chiba.

“I felt relaxed before I stepped in the batter’s box,” Imae said.

“I was trying to hit something to the outfield and was hoping for a sacrifice fly at worst. I’m happy with how it turned out.”

The Marines, who beat the Seibu Lions on Thursday, have won two straight and seven of their last nine.

“We’ve been playing well,” Imae said.

Imae finished with 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs. Tadahito Iguchi also doubled in two of his four at-bats and drove in a pair of runs.

“Golden Week starts from today and a lot of fans were here,” Iguchi said. “I wanted to live up to their expectations.”

Lotte starter Yoshihisa Naruse threw seven solid innings and improved to 3-0 this season. Naruse allowed two runs — one earned — on eight hits. He struck out three and walked three.

“I was pleased with my breaking balls,” Naruse said. “I think my change-up was good, and I was able to mix my pitches well.”

The Hawks outhit the Marines 9-6, but could only manage a pair of runs.

Softbank infielder Yuki Yoshimura made his debut for the team in the loss and connected on a solo home run in his first at-bat. Yoshimura was acquired in a trade with the Yokohama BayStars over the offseason.

Designated hitter Bryan LaHair finished 1-for-4, just missing a two-run homer in the fifth, and was credited with an RBI on a groundout in the third.

Softbank rookie Hirofumi Yamanaka took the mound in place of reigning Sawamura Award winner Tadashi Settsu, scratched due to swollen tonsils, and lasted just three innings. Yamanaka allowed five runs — four earned — on four hits and walked five.

Marines leadoff man Shunichi Nemoto drew a walk to begin the bottom half of the first and Daichi Suzuki sent him to third with a single. Lotte then took an early 2-0 lead courtesy of Iguchi’s two-run double to right-center.

“Nemo and Daichi created a good situation, and I felt that even just a sacrifice fly would be OK,” Iguchi said. “So I was able to hit without any pressure. It felt good to be able to open the scoring.”

Yoshimura pulled one back for the Hawks in the second by sending one of Naruse’s poorer change-ups into the seats in right.

The Marines loaded the bases in the third, and Imae delivered his first double of the game to clear the bases and make the score 5-2.

“It was a good hit,” Imae said.

Shima, Matsui power Eagles

Tokorozawa Saitama Pref. KYODO

Catcher Motohiro Shima and Kazuo Matsui both hit three-run homers, rookie Takahiro Norimoto threw one-run ball over seven innings, and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles routed the Seibu Lions 9-2 on Saturday afternoon.

Shima went deep to left off Takayuki Kishi (1-4) in the opening frame and Matsui piled on the damage with his blast to right in a five-run fourth at Seibu Dome, featuring Makoto Moriyama’s two-run single to help the Eagles to their third consecutive win.

Norimoto (2-2) scattered three hits, including a solo homer to Shogo Akiyama, and walked five. Pacific-League leader Seibu lost two straight for the second time this season.

Fighters 2, Buffaloes 1

At Sapporo Dome, Michel Abreu went deep off Chihiro Kaneko with a two-run drive in the second inning in support of Brain Wolfe (2-3), who scattered six hits and one run over five solid frames to lift Hokkaido Nippon Ham past Orix to its first three-game winning streak this season.

Abreu homered in his third consecutive game to bring his tally to eight round-trippers this season. Hisashi Takeda closed out for his fourth save.

Kaneko (2-2) limited damage to two runs with 11 strikeouts over eight strong innings, but got little help from his teammates.

CENTRAL LEAGUE


Dragons 5, Carp 3

At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Bradley Bergesen (1-1) went five innings on three-run ball to get his first win in Japan.

Masahiko Morino had a clutch two-run triple to key a four-run first, and four Chunichi relievers held off Hiroshima.

Dragons leadoff man Yohei Oshima was 3-for-5 and Kazuhiro Wada drove in two runs in a 2-for-4 outing. Shota Nakazaki (1-2) was tagged for five runs in just three innings.

Swallows 4, Giants 2
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Wladimir Balentien hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth inning to help rally Tokyo Yakult over Yomiuri for its fourth straight victory.

The crowd was anticipating a fierce pitching duel between rookie right-handers Tomoyuki Sugano and Yasuhiro Ogawa, but it was Balentien who came through when the going got tough.

The home team got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first.

Ryosuke Morioka and Lastings Milledge smacked back-to-back singles with one out to put runners at the corners, and the opening run scored on Balentien’s groundout to second.

Ogawa, who adopted his pitching form after Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, got out of a first-and-third situation in the fifth when he got Sugano to fly out in right-field in foul territory for the third out, but he wasn’t as lucky in the next inning.

After walking Tetsuya Matsumoto with one out, Sakamoto stepped to the plate to drill a 1-1 fastball just over the wall inside the right-field foul post for a 2-1 lead.

Ogawa (3-0) threw two-run ball with seven strikeouts and two walks over seven innings. Sugano (3-1), the nephew of Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, yielded four runs and six hits in six innings in taking the first loss of his pro career.

BayStars 9, Tigers 1

At Yokohama Stadium, Shugo Fujii pitched his first complete game in 11 seasons, Tony Blanco went 4-for-5 with four RBIs, and Yokohama snapped a four-game losing skid with a romp over Hanshin.

Fujii (2-0) scattered six hits, struck out four and walked four in a 134-pitch outing. Tatsuya Kojima (1-1) lasted just 1 2/3 innings after being rocked for six runs. Blanco hit his CL-leading 13th homer and was a triple short of the cycle.