OSAKA – Masahiro Tanaka equaled the mark for Japan’s longest winning streak within a single season as he improved to 20-0 on Friday in the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ 3-2 win over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
The 24-year-old Eagles ace has won 24 consecutive decisions dating back to Aug. 26, 2012. Although Tanaka (20-0) went the distance, he needed a little help from his friends to nail down this one after surrendering two runs over the first four innings.
“I didn’t help much tonight, so I’ll try to do a competent job in my next game,” said Tanaka, who allowed just three base runners after the fourth inning. “The team had to score three runs to come back because of me, and after we did, I managed to do some good at the end.”
The Eagles, who saw their Pacific League lead increase to six games over the Chiba Lotte Marines, were stymied through four innings by marquee Fighters rookie Shohei Otani, who allowed two runs in five innings.
Rakuten got to the rookie in the fifth, when Kazuya Fujita’s two-run single tied it.
“I’d made an easy out in my previous at-bat, and when I got back to the bench, Masahiro shot me this look that said, ‘Not again?’ ” Fujita said. “So when I came up (in the fifth), I was going to do anything to avoid getting that look.”
Eagles captain Kazuo Matsui, who threw out a Fighters runner at the plate in the fourth inning, broke up the tie in the bottom of the sixth with a solo homer off reliever Toshiya Yanuki (2-2).
Tanaka, who won his 13th consecutive start, allowed seven hits and two walks, while striking out 11 in a 128-pitch effort. With 20 straight wins in a single season, he matched the mark of Hall of Famer Kazuhisa Inao, who won 20 straight in 1957 en route to a 35-6 season for the Nishitetsu Lions.
Squaring off against Otani for the first time, Tanaka retired the visitors in order in the first before surrendering a leadoff homer in the second to cleanup hitter Michel Abreu.
Tanaka misplaced a 2-0 slider up and over the plate that found the fat part of Abreu’s bat. It sailed over the wall in center for the Cuban’s 28th home run, tying him with injured teammate Sho Nakata for the PL lead.
Poor location forced Tanaka to pitch out of a two-on, one-out jam in the third. But the Fighters put a run on the board in the fourth on a single by Eiichi Koyano, a double by Shogo Akada and an RBI single by Kenji Sato. The damage could have been worse, but Matsui’s relay nailed Koyano easily at the plate for the second out.
Lions 8, Marines 0
At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Seibu submarine right-hander Kazuhisa Makita (6-9) scattered seven hits, issued a walk and hit one batter and two relievers completed a shutout that sent Chiba Lotte to its third straight loss.
The Lions welcomed back slugger Takeya Nakamura, who went 1-for-5 with an RBI single in his first game of the season after having surgery last year.
Hawks 1, Buffaloes 0
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Yuki Yanagita broke up a scoreless pitchers’ duel when he led off the top of the ninth inning with a home run off Yoshihisa Hirano (2-5) as Fukuoka Softbank edged Orix.
Hawks ace Tadashi Settsu went eight innings and improved to 15-5, with Ryota Igarashi picking up his eighth save.
BayStars 5, Carp 4
At Yokohama Stadium, Takehiro Ishikawa overturned a 1-0 deficit with a two-run, fifth-inning single and Taketoshi Goto belted a three-run, pinch-hit home run in the seventh as Yokohama topped Hiroshima to win its third straight game.
Tigers 8, Giants 4
At Koshien Stadium, Hanshin captain Takashi Toritani went 4-for-5 with a double, a home run and five RBIs in a win over league-leading Yomiuri.
Tigers ace Atsushi Nomi (9-6) allowed two runs in seven innings to win for the first time since July 9. The lefty allowed seven hits and three walks, while striking out three.
Swallows 6, Dragons 4
At Nagoya Dome, Ryosuke Morioka broke up a tie game against the team that once discarded him with a seventh-inning, pinch-hit double that lifted Tokyo Yakult over Chunichi.
NPB home run leader Wladimir Balentien remained on 52, three shy of the single-season record after going 1-for-5 with a single.