FUKUOKA – Toru Hosokawa belted a tie-breaking two-run homer and Kenichi Nakata allowed a run in six innings to propel the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks into first place in the Pacific League with a 3-1 win on Saturday over the Orix Buffaloes.
In front of 38,561 at Yafuoku Dome, Nakata (8-4) pitched out of a first-inning jam as Softbank held on for a victory that dropped the Buffaloes a half-game back in second. Nakata gave up three hits, two walks and hit a batter, while striking out six to win for the first time since June 14.
Soon after Nakata weathered first-inning trouble, back-to-back first-inning doubles by Kenta Imamiya and Seiichi Uchikawa made it 1-0 Hawks against Orix rookie Daiki Tomei (2-4). Nakata and Hosokawa contributed to an Orix run in the top of the fourth, when a leadoff walk, a passed ball and a wild pitch put a runner on third with one out.
Hosokawa, however, made things good when he belted a low 144-kph fastball into the stands in center field.
“I got lucky and got one of those rare pitches I am able to hit,” Hosokawa. “I was looking for one fastball (I could hit).”
The Buffaloes came up empty in the first despite having a speedy runner on third with one out. Esteban German singled, was sacrificed to second and stole third. Nakata hit a batter, but struck out PL batting leader Yoshio Itoi looking. Nakata missed with a 2-0 pitch that slugger Takahiro Okada hit up the middle, but second baseman Yuichi Honda made a good play on it to get the force at second and save a run.
“Somehow I was able to keep them off the board in the first,” said Nakata, who was pitching in a game for the first time in 13 days. “During that time, I worked a lot on my fastball. It’s still not there yet, but my command today was better.”
Former Hawk Wily Mo Pena tied the game in the fourth with an RBI single after Itoi walked and advanced to third thanks to a wild pitch and a passed ball.
The game didn’t stay tied for long. Tomei got two outs in the bottom of the inning before Honda threaded the needle between first and second for a ground single and Hosokawa followed with his big blast.
“I don’t know if it was a good performance by us or a bad one,” Hawks manager Koji Akiyama said. “It was a big hit by Hosokawa, but before that he made a costly mistake with that passed ball.
“Despite that, he came to the plate and did a good job of focusing.”
A trio of right-handed relievers brought the win home for the Hawks as Yuito Mori and Ryota Igarashi each pitched a 1-2-3 frame. Closer Dennis Sarfate worked around a leadoff single and a one out walk to nail down his 25th save.
Eagles 3, Fighters 2
Lions 5, Marines 3
BayStars 7, Swallows 1
Dragons 7, Giants 5
Carp 7, Tigers 5