Wladimir Balentien was more than ready to turn the page on one of his worst weeks of the season. Being able to do it in an important game against the rival Yomiuri Giants was just icing on the cake.
Balentien drove in a pair of runs, Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa threw eight innings of one-run ball and the Swallows used a three-run eighth to earn a 4-1 victory over the Kyojin on Tuesday night in front of a crowd of 42,626 at Tokyo Dome.
“I needed that,” Balentien said with a laugh. “I had two hits last week. At least I started this week right with two.”
The second-place Swallows increased their advantage in the Central League standings to two games over the third-place Giants. Yakult also moved to 61-61-1 overall, joining the league-leading Hiroshima Carp (72-50-2) as the only CL teams with at least .500 records.
“It was a much-needed win today for us,” Balentien said. “To start the series, to take the first game, that gives us confidence to come back tomorrow and try to take the second game.”
The Swallows banged out 11 hits against Yomiuri pitching. Balentien was 2-for-4 with an RBI double and RBI single. Norichika Aoki, Kazuhiro Hatakeyama and Tetsuto Yamada also each finished with two hits.
Ogawa (7-5) allowed a home run to rookie Shunta Tanaka in the fourth but was otherwise rock-solid on the mound.
“I’m very happy,” Ogawa said. “I was a little nervous, but I’m glad I was able to get the win.”
He allowed one run on six hits and finished with eight strikeouts and a pair of walks.
“He’s been throwing the ball good, really good,” Balentien said. “We need those games from him right now. He’s been doing great.”
Tanaka’s homer, the first of his career, was one of the few bright spots for the Giants. Tanaka also had a single, while Hayato Sakamoto finished 2-for-4.
Yomiuri starter C.C. Mercedes dropped to 5-3 after being charged with three runs — one earned — over seven-plus innings. He gave up seven hits, struck out three, walked one and hit a batter.
Neither starter allowed a run until Tanaka hit a solo homer over the left field wall in the fourth.
The Swallows drew even in the sixth when Balentien nearly hit a two-run homer to center and settled for an RBI double. He is currently the NPB leader with 114 RBIs. Yakult was in position to take the lead with runners on the corners later in the inning, but Keiji Obiki hit into a double play.
The Swallows began the eighth with singles by Tomotaka Sakaguchi and Aoki. Yamada then grounded out to second as both runners advanced. Sakaguchi scored the tiebreaking run on a passed ball and Balentien bounced a single up the middle that allowed Aoki to score to give the Birds a 3-1 advantage.
“They brought the infield in, so I was just trying to go up the middle,” Balentien said. “I wasn’t trying to put too much of a swing on it, so I wouldn’t pop it up. I just tried to put it in play. I knew the runner was going on contact, so I was just trying to stay up the middle and I did.”
Tsuyoshi Ueda came on to pinch run for Balentien and went from first to third on a single by Kazuhiro Hatakeyama before scoring on a hit by Obiki.
The Swallows will send David Buchanan (9-10) to the mound for the second game of the series on Wednesday at the Big Egg. Mitsuo Yoshikawa (6-5) will get the start for Yomiuri. Buchanan will be looking for his first win since Aug. 17 against the Hanshin Tigers.
“It’s obviously a big series for the spot we’re fighting for,” he said. “I like the way we’re playing right now. It’s going to be a good matchup.
“Tomorrow, I’ll just go out there and do my best. I feel like I haven’t been doing my job recently. So I feel like I’ve been personally letting the team down pitching-wise. So hopefully tomorrow I can give them a good start.”