In a matchup of rookie All-Star starting pitchers, Hanshin Tigers teenager Shintaro Fujinami worked six innings to earn the victory in Sunday’s 7-0 win over the Yomiuri Giants.
The 19-year-old Fujinami improved to 7-4. He allowed six hits and a walk, while striking out five. Three of the strikeouts came with two outs and a runner in scoring position as he protected the one-run lead he received before taking the mound in the bottom of the first.
“He was able to command his breaking pitches low in the zone and that was the difference between him allowing runs or not,” Tigers skipper Yutaka Wada said of the rookie who was facing the Giants for the first time.
With a host of vocal Hanshin supporters on hand, Tokyo Dome felt more like the Tigers’ home park than the Giants’.
“Of course, pitching against the Giants feels a little different, but so many of our fans came that they gave it their own distinctive atmosphere,” Fujinami said.
“Consistent practice paid off (today) in good command of my breaking pitches. That enabled me to survive tough situations. With a one-run lead, I had to curb their momentum, otherwise the whole complexion of the game would have changed.”
The Tigers played for one run following a leadoff walk by Katsuhiko Saka and got exactly what they bargained for.
A sacrifice bunt and a single by No. 3 hitter Takashi Toritani set the table. Giants rookie Tomoyuki Sugano struck out Matt Murton swinging, but No. 5 hitter Takahiro Arai managed to get the barrel on a low-and-away slider from Sugano and flick it the other way. The ball floated into shallow right, just beyond the reach of second baseman Daisuke Nakai to plate Saka.
Nakai, who hit a decisive homer in Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Tigers, crashed to the turf after trying to make a leaping grab on Arai’s fly and did not take the field in the top of the second.
Sugano (9-3) allowed six runs, three earned, on seven hits, two walks and a hit batsman. The 23-year-old right-hander struck out five. After the first inning, Sugano kept the Tigers under wraps until a wild sequence of events saw the visitors score five times in the seventh.
A close call at the plate that went the Tigers’ way opened the floodgates. With the infield in following a hit batsman and a double by Tigers backup catcher Takashi Shimizu, Shinjiro Hiyama batted for Fujinami and hit a roller to second. Shigeyuki Furuki threw home and catcher Shinnosuke Abe appeared to make the tag but was contradicted by plate umpire Masato Tomoyose.
On the next play, Furuki flubbed a throw on a grounder to second, allowing a runner to score and putting two men in scoring position. With one out, Yamato Maeda’s sharp grounder easily pierced the drawn-in infield to drive in Hanshin’s third run of the inning and send Sugano to the showers.
Giants lefty Takahiro Aoki retired the only batter he faced, and righty Ryota Katsuki came on to face Murton, who had twice made a final out with a runner in scoring position. This time, however, the Tigers cleanup man made amends. After Maeda swiped second, Murton drilled a two-out, two-run single that made it 6-0.
“I pitched as well as expected today but the results were not what I expected,” Sugano said. “I want both.
“I think it was tough on Fujinami, too. But when in make-or-break situations, he got outs. That’s what good pitchers have to do.”
The Tigers added a run in the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Arai off Yuki Egarashi, the Giants’ fourth pitcher.
Hanshin right-hander Ryoma Matsuda worked a scoreless seventh, while righty Yuya Ando survived a pair of two-out singles in the eighth. Closer Shinobu Fukuhara loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth but preserved the shutout.
The Giants repeatedly threatened to score against Fujinami but were denied at every turn. Former Seattle Mariner Jose Lopez, who had homered the night before and drilled a second-inning double, came up empty against Fujinami with runners in scoring position in the fourth and sixth innings.
After a John Bowker leadoff double in the fifth, Tigers second baseman Saka made a superb catch to rob Sugano of a hit. Fujinami followed that act by winning an eight-pitch battle with Hisayoshi Chono, striking him out on a cutter low and away.
Carp 7, Swallows 4
At Jingu Stadium, Ryuhei Matsuyama fell a single short of the cycle, driving in six runs and scoring twice as Hiroshima beat Tokyo Yakult. Matsuyama twice put the visitors in front, with a two-run, first-inning double and a fourth-inning solo home run.
Matsuyama tripled with the bases loaded in his third at-bat, but was robbed of a hit in the seventh inning by Swallows center fielder Tsuyoshi Ueda. Yakult’s Wladimir Balentien hit his Japan-best 38th home run of the season. It was his 100th in his 2½ seasons in Japan.
Dragons 12, BayStars 10
At Yokohama Stadium, Masahiko Morino hit two home runs for the second day in a row, Matt Clark went deep for the third straight game and Chunichi held off Yokohama to hand the BayStars their fifth straight defeat.
Dragons starter Daisuke Yamai (4-4), who threw a no-hitter at Yokohama Stadium on June 28, earned the win despite allowing five runs in five innings.
Lions 3, Hawks 2
At Yafuoku Dome, right-hander Takayuki Kishi (7-5) allowed two runs in 7⅔ innings, and Shogo Akiyama hit a tie-breaking solo homer in the seventh as Seibu avoided a three-game sweep by Fukuoka Softbank.
Hawks right-hander Sho Iwasaki (1-3) allowed three runs in seven innings of the loss as Softbank saw its four-game winning streak snapped. The Lions’ Hideto Asamura opened the scoring with his second homer, a leadoff blast in the second, in two days.
Eagles 14, Fighters 4
At Sapporo Dome, league-leading Tohoku Rakuten broke open a 3-3 tie in a seven-run, fifth inning in which the Eagles belted seven doubles — a Japanese baseball record for one inning. Hokkaido Nippon Ham lefty Mitsuo Yoshikawa (6-9), the PL’s 2012 MVP, allowed seven runs in 4⅓ innings.
Every member of the Rakuten starting lineup had at least one RBI and one of the team’s 23 hits as the Eagles improved to 8-1 with one tie following the All-Star break.
Marines 7, Buffaloes 3
At Hotto Motto Field, Takashi Ogino hit a two-run home run and Craig Brazell doubled in two runs as Chiba Lotte overturned a three-run Orix lead in a four-run third inning.
Brandon Dickson (5-5) allowed four runs, two earned, in the loss as the Buffaloes had 12 hits and wasted several scoring opportunities. The Marines’ Tadahito Iguchi hit his 20th home run, a two-run jack in the seventh.