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Luna powers Dragons past Swallows, helps Asakura end winless drought

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Hector Luna heard from the Chunichi Dragons’ translator that Friday night’s starter, Kenta Asakura, hadn’t won a game in nearly four seasons.

So Luna went out and did his part to help right that wrong while also heaping a little more misery on the flailing Tokyo Yakult Swallows.

Luna homered and drove in three runs to help Asakura end his long winless drought as the Dragons edged the Swallows 4-3 at Jingu Stadium.

“They told me he hadn’t had a win in four years,” Luna said. “Tonight he got a win, and I’m so happy for him.”

Asakura allowed a pair of runs on four hits and struck out seven over six innings to pick up his first win since beating the Yokohama BayStars on June 22, 2010.

“I’m really relieved right now,” Asakura said. “It’s been really difficult up to now. I’m really glad I didn’t give up and did my best.”

Luna hit a two-run homer in the first to give Chunichi a lead it wouldn’t relinquish and added an RBI single in the fifth.

“I thought he (Swallows starter Masanori Ishikawa) might throw me a change-up, but the pitch he threw was up, and I was able to hit it,” Luna said of the home run, his fourth of the season.

Asakura took it from there, holding the Swallows hitless until Shingo Kawabata’s solo homer in the fourth. He would give up another run in the fifth, but was able to hand a lead to the Chunichi bullpen, which survived a few shaky moments to get the job done over the final three frames.

“I have to express my gratitude to my manager and coaches for giving me the chance,” Asakura said.

Dragons reliever Shinji Tajima gave up an unearned run in the eighth that allowed Yakult to cut the lead to one and got the final out of the inning with the bases loaded. Closer Hitoki Iwase gave up a pair of hits in the ninth but was able to nail down his third save of the season.

While Asakura celebrated a win, the Swallows are wondering when they’ll be able to do the same. Yakult threatened late, but wasn’t able to prevent its losing streak from hitting nine games.

Ishikawa (0-3) took the loss to remain winless on the season. He allowed four runs — two earned — on five hits over five innings. Ishikawa struck out three, walked two and hit a batter.

Kawabata’s home run was his second of the season and Tetsuto Yamada also recorded an RBI.

Luna’s two-run blast to center got things going in the first, but the Swallows managed to pull back a run in the fourth on Kawabata’s home run, which made the score 2-1.

Ishikawa got two quick outs in the top of the fifth before giving up an triple to Masahiro Araki. Yohei Oshima drove Araki in with a single, and later stole second with Luna at the plate.

Luna drove Oshima in with a single to give Chunichi a 4-1 lead.

Yakult put together a couple of hits in the bottom of the fifth, and Yamada knocked in a run with a single to trim the lead to two.

Kawabata reached first on a two-out error by Araki at second, and Tajima walked Wladimir Balentien to put runners on first and second.

Yuichi Matsumoto singled to left to score Kawabata and an error in the outfield on the play left the Swallows with runners on first and second. Kazuhiro Hatakeyama drew a walk that loaded the bases, but Tajima retired Ryoji Aikawa on a fly ball to center to end the inning.

Yakult put runners on first and second against Iwase in the ninth before NPB’s all-time saves leader closed out the win.

The two teams will meet for the second game of the series on Saturday at Jingu Stadium.

While the Swallows will be looking to avoid a 10th straight defeat, Luna is hoping for an encore.

“I feel good,” he said. “I got a couple of RBIs tonight. “We’re going to be ready tomorrow, and hopefully I can get a couple more hits tomorrow.”

Carp trounce Giants

HIROSHIMA

KYODO

Jumpei Shinoda (2-1) allowed three runs in 6-1/3 innings and got some big help from the Carp batters and fielders as Central League-leading Hiroshima beat the Yomiuri Giants 7-3 on Friday.

Pitching before a home crowd of 28,457 at Mazda Stadium, Shinoda surrendered six hits and a walk, while striking out three. Three Carp relievers and some solid defending kept the Giants off the board the rest of the way as Hiroshima won its fourth straight.

“Last week at Yokohama Stadium I won my first game in two years, but doing it here is the best,” Shinoda said. “The position players helped me out with great fielding and great hitting and I was able to hang in there on the mound.”

The Carp defense sparkled most of the night led by the Golden Glove duo of center fielder Yoshihiro Maru and second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi.

On offense, Maru went 3-for-4 with a game-tying two-run homer and a pair of stolen bases. Brad Eldred also drove in a pair of runs for the Carp, while Rainel Rosario hit his first homer in Japan and Eishin Soyogi put the game on ice with a two-run single in the seventh.

Eldred put the Carp in front in the first inning, when he fought off a tough slider to muscle an opposite-field RBI single to right and drive home Shota Dobayashi with two outs.

“It was a tough pitch. You’ll take any hit you can get, especially with a guy on third base and we were able to get a run,” said Eldred.

Shinoda handcuffed the Giants for the first two innings, but Itaru Hashimoto sparked a three-run, third-inning rally by putting a good swing on a fastball for a leadoff single.

With one out and two on, Yasuyuki Kataoka singled in the tying run. Leslie Anderson delivered an RBI double and Shuichi Murata flew out to right for a sacrifice fly.

The hosts erased the deficit on two swings in the bottom of the inning, when Dobayashi doubled and scored on Maru’s fifth homer of the season.

Dobayashi scored the go-ahead run in the fifth after drawing his second walk. A sacrifice and a single by Maru advanced the lead runner to third, from where Dobayashi scored on a sac fly from Eldred.

Maru prevented the Giants from tying the game in the top of the sixth. With no outs and a runner on first, the Golden Glover robbed Jose Lopez of an RBI double with a superb catch at the warning track in right-center. Rosario, who came up when first baseman Kila Ka’aihue was deactivated with an injury, sent Sugiuchi to the showers with a leadoff homer in the sixth. Sugiuchi allowed five runs on seven hits and two walks in five-plus innings. The lefty struck out two.

The Carp added two more runs in the bottom of the seventh off Yomiuri’s third pitcher, Yuya Kubo. Singles by Kikuchi and Maru and Maru’s second stolen base set the table for Soyogi’s two-run single.

Tigers 14, BayStars 4

At Yokohama Stadium, Hanshin ace Atsushi Nomi (4-1) allowed three runs in seven innings and had one of the hits in a five-run third inning as the Tigers pulverized Yokohama to remain two games out of first place.

PACIFIC LEAGUE
Buffaloes 11, Eagles 0

At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Orix ace Chihiro Kaneko (2-1) struck out 14 in a one-hit shutout to beat Tohoku Rakuten and PL 2013 Rookie of the Year Takahiro Norimoto (3-2).

The Buffaloes blasted Norimoto for nine runs in five innings and moved into first place.

Lions 2, Hawks 1

At Yafuoku Dome, Seibu slugger Takeya Nakamura doubled in two runs in his first plate appearance of the season, while ace Takayuki Kishi (2-2) worked into the ninth inning as the Lions beat Fukuoka Softbank and knocked the Hawks out of the PL’s top spot.

Marines 9, Fighters 1

At Sapporo Dome, Chiba Lotte ace Yoshihisa Naruse (3-1) threw a five-hitter for his first complete game of the season as the Marines handed Hokkaido Nippon Ham rookie Naoyuki Uwasawa (3-1) his first career defeat.