SENDAI – Three outs from seeing their ace’s winning streak snapped, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth on Friday to beat the Chiba Lotte Marines 3-2.
Eagles catcher Motohiro Shima’s one-out, line-drive single off Marines closer Naoya Masuda (2-4) brought in the winning run from third to keep Tanaka (14-0) unbeaten since Aug. 2, 2012. The victory lifted Pacific League-leading Rakuten three games ahead of the second-place Marines.
“The incredible support from the fans, the work of the position players, they did it tonight,” Tanaka said after winning his 18th straight decision. “The weather was uncertain tonight and to have so many people come out was amazing.”
Tanaka gave up five hits and walked one in a 90-pitch, complete-game effort. Both runs he allowed came on first-pitch solo home runs by Daichi Suzuki and Tadahito Iguchi
Iguchi’s homer, his second hit of the game, put the Marines in front and brought his career hit total between Japan and the major leagues to 2,000.
It looked like it would stand up until the Eagles rallied against Masuda in the ninth.
Ginji Akaminai opened the ninth inning with a fly down the left-field line that bounced barely fair for his third hit of the game. He just beat the tag at second. A wild pitch and a hit batsman put runners on the corners with no outs. After striking out Casey McGehee for the first out, Masuda walked the next two batters to force in a run before Shima delivered the telling blow.
“When Iguchi hit his home run, the scenario running through my head had us winning a sayonara victory,” Eagles manager Senichi Hoshino said. “And since that’s how it turned out, I want to congratulate Iguchi.”
Suzuki opened the scoring in the top of the second with a solo homer, the first hit of the game off Tanaka. Shintaro Masuda evened it up against right-hander Seth Greisinger in the bottom of the inning with his third home run. Iguchi then restored the visitors’ lead in the sixth. Greisinger earned a no-decision despite his seven impressive innings.
Tanaka is one win away from tying the NPB record for the longest winning streak to start a season, and two wins from the longest streak in history. Shigekuni Mashiba (1981) and Kazumi Saito (2005) each opened the season with 15 straight wins. Kiyoshi Matsuda (1951-52) and Kazuhisa Inao (1957) share the record for 20 straight winning decisions.
Lions 5, Buffaloes 1
At Tokorozawa’s Seibu Dome, Seibu’s Hideto Asamura’s first-inning RBI double started a flood of run support for submarine right-hander Kazuhisa Makita (5-7), who went seven innings to beat Orix for his first win since May 15.
Shogo Akiyama followed Asamura in the first with an RBI single that made it 2-0 and capped the Lions’ scoring with an RBI infield single in the third for a five-run cushion.
Hawks 5, Fighters 3
BayStars 5, Tigers 1
At Koshien Stadium, Yokohama lefty Shugo Fujii (6-3) earned his third complete game victory of the season against Hanshin and improved to 4-0 against the Tigers for the season.
Hanshin starter Jason Standridge (5-7) allowed two runs in six innings but lost his fourth straight decision to the BayStars.
Former Milwaukee Brewer Nyjer Morgan sparked Yokohama by driving in the game’s first run, driving in two more in the eighth and making a spectacular catch in center field.
Giants 6, Dragons 3
At Nagoya Dome, Yomiuri scored three runs in both the third and fourth innings en route to a series-opening victory over Chunichi.
Shuichi Murata and Hisayoshi Chono each had two RBIs for the Giants.
Carp 6, Swallows 5 (10)