OSAKA – Shota Takeda won a scintillating pitcher’s duel on Sunday to help the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks beat the Orix Buffaloes 1-0 and avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of their nearest rivals for the Pacific League pennant.
The 21-year-old Takeda (2-0) allowed five hits, three walks and hit a batter in seven scoreless innings. He struck out seven and won a well-pitched game between right-handers with good fastballs and excellent breaking pitches.
The win before 31,106 at Kyocera Dome, moved the first-place Hawks three games clear of the second-place Buffaloes, who had plenty of chances but couldn’t get past Takeda or relievers Ryota Igarashi and Dennis Sarfate, who recorded his 31st save. The loss snapped the Buffaloes’ six-game winning streak.
“Because we had lost consecutive games, I wanted to pitch so we could turn things around,” said Takeda, the Hawks’ first-round draft pick in 2011 who was known in high school as “Kyushu’s Darvish.”
He was making his second start of the season after suffering from discomfort in his right shoulder in spring training.
His big test came with two outs in the seventh inning. Trying to protect a one-run lead, he faced the PL’s leading hitter, Yoshio Itoi, and got him to hit a comebacker on a slider high and away after three breaking balls out of the zone.
“I think my heart stopped,” Takeda said of the at-bat. “It was a game we couldn’t afford to lose.”
Orix sent 24-year-old rookie Kazumasa Yoshida (5-2) to the mound, and the Buffaloes’ top draft pick last autumn was superb, allowing just two singles and four walks in eight innings, while striking out five.
The game’s lone run came in the sixth, when Kenji Akashi drew a leadoff walk, stole second, and went to third on a sacrifice bunt. Light-hitting Kenta Imamiya then drove a 1-0 fastball in the heart of the zone to deep right for an ice-breaking sacrifice fly.
In the seventh, Takeda surrendered a leadoff double to pesky Orix outfielder Takayoshi Kawabata, who reached base three times against him. A fielder’s choice and a walk loaded the bases with two outs, but Itoi was unable to cash in.
Former big leaguer Igarashi struck out the heart of the Buffaloes’ order in the eighth to preserve the lead.
Sarfate struck out Kawabata to open the ninth. Former Hawks catcher Katsuki Yamazaki singled with two outs to keep the hosts’ hopes of a sweep alive, but Sarfate got out of the inning on an easy fly out to center.
Fighters 3, Lions 3 (12)
At Saitama’s Seibu Dome, Seibu wasted a strong start from lefty Hirotaka Koishi, who allowed a run in five innings, as Hokkaido Nippon Ham tied it 3-3 in the sixth inning on a passed ball and a Hiroyuki Kobayashi wild pitch.
Eagles 3, Marines 1
At Sendai’s Kobo Stadium Miyagi, Yasunori Kikuchi (1-0) threw six scoreless innings in his first start of the season, Motohiro Shima opened the scoring with a second-inning sacrifice fly and Ginji Akaminai hit a two-run home run as Tohoku Rakuten beat Chiba Lotte.
Dragons 7, Swallows 3
At Nagoya Dome, Yudai Kawai (4-6) allowed three runs in seven innings, and Chunichi broke the ice with the help of a first-inning error.
Tokyo Yakult’s 2013 rookie of the year, Yasuhiro Ogawa (5-5), allowed a career-high seven runs in five innings to take the loss.
Carp 5, Giants 4
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, the Carp overturned a two-run, eighth-inning deficit on RBI singles from Tsubasa Aizawa, Tetsuya Kokubo and Shota Dobayashi, and Kam Mickolio closed it out against Yomiuri to earn his 18th save.
Tigers 5, BayStars 2
At Yokohama Stadium, Hanshin’s top draft pick last autumn, lefty Yuta Iwasada (1-1), allowed two runs over 5⅓ innings to earn his first victory behind home runs from Hiroki Uemoto, Takashi Toritani and rookie catcher Ryutaro Umeno.