Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters fans who bought tickets for Monday night’s game came hoping to see a good show.
For the first time in a long time, Sho Nakata gave them one.
Kensuke Tanaka and Yoshio Itoi kept the Yomiuri Giants from scoring with two nifty defensive plays in the sixth and set the stage for Nakata’s tiebreaking two-run homer in the seventh, which helped give the Fighters a 3-2 win at Tokyo Dome.
Nakata had an eventful night, finishing 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs and a stolen base.
“This was a good night for me and for our team,” Nakata said. “We really needed this win, and I’m glad I could help make it happen.”
The Fighters hadn’t really been getting much out of their cleanup hitter lately. Nakata entered the game hitting .151, and a single in the first inning snapped a hitless streak that spanned 14 at-bats.
Still they stuck with him in the No. 4 spot, and with a runner on in a 1-1 game in the seventh, Nakata delivered a two-run shot to left-center that gave the Fighters the lead for good.
“I knew I hit it well, but wasn’t sure if it would clear the fence, because it was a line drive,” Nakata said. “I was relieved when I saw it go into the stands.”
Nakata’s home run helped give reliever Masahiro Inui the first win of his professional career. Inui (1-0) entered the game with two outs in the sixth and retired the only batter he faced on four pitches to earn the victory in relief.
“I was so happy when I saw Nakata hit that home run and I got excited knowing I could be the winning pitcher,” Inui said.
Hopefully he also remembered to thank Tanaka and Itoi, who helped keep the game tied in the sixth.
The Fighters sent Ryo Sakakibara on in relief to start the frame, and he quickly gave up a one-out single to Shuichi Murata and walked Shinnosuke Abe to put runners on first and second.
Yoshitomo Tani may have broken the tie with a hard grounder up the middle, but Tanaka kept the ball in the infield with a diving stop and flipped it to shortstop Masayoshi Kato, who stepped on second to record the out with runners on first and third.
Inui then relieved Sakakibara and would’ve given up a run on a long ball hit by Yoshinobu Takahashi if not for a leaping catch at the wall by Itoi that ended the inning.
Nakata’s homer in the next frame put Inui in line for the win.
“I was in the game at the right time,” Inui said.
Hirotoshi Masui worked the ninth and earned his seventh save despite giving up a home run to Yoshiyuki Kamei.
Inui was given the winning ball afterwards.
“I will treasure this ball forever,” he said.
Kensuke Tanaka and Daikan Yoh were the only other Fighters to record hits during the game. Kato was 0-for-1, but drove in the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly in the second.
The loss was just the fourth for the Giants in their last 24 games.
Murata finished 2-for-4 at the plate including a solo home run, his fourth of the season. The homer was his 45th in interleague play, the most by any player since the format began in 2005.
Kamei’s shot in the ninth accounted for the Giants’ only other run.
Starter D.J. Houlton took the loss for Yomiuri after allowing three runs on four hits in six-plus innings. Houlton (3-4) struck out six and hit one batter.
Iguchi hits 200th homer
Tadahito Iguchi hit his 200th career homer in Japanese ball, a three-run shot that capped a seven-run fifth inning as the Pacific League-leading Chiba Lotte Marines hammered the Hiroshima Carp 7-3 on Monday to extend the Carp’s winless streak to seven games.
Ryoji Katsuki allowed eight hits and a walk at Mazda Stadium, but won his season debut for the Marines. He gave up three unearned runs in 6⅔ innings. Katsuki also had his first pro hit and his first pro RBI. Bryan Bullington (2-5) gave up all seven runs on seven hits and two walks over five innings.
“A homer is just a long hit,” said Iguchi, who began his career with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and won a major league championship with the Chicago White Sox. “If you play long enough, you’ll get some.”
Katsuya Kakunaka’s one-out triple keyed the big rally. Toshiaki Imae followed with a double that opened the scoring. With two outs and Imae at third, the Carp walked No. 8 hitter Masahiko Tanaka to get to Katsuki, a plan that backfired when the Marines pitcher lined the eighth pitch he saw from Bullington into right field for an RBI single. A pair of RBI singles made it 4-0 and brought Iguchi to the plate.
Iguchi hit Bullington’s sixth pitch into the left-field stands to ice it. All but one of the visitors’ seven hits came in the fifth inning.
An error by Iguchi helped open the door for a Carp rally in the seventh that sent Katsuki out of the game, but the Marines relief corps prevented further incursions.
Dragons 6, Hawks 1
At Nagoya Dome, three straight run-scoring singles by Motonobu Tanishige, pinch hitter Takeshi Yamasaki and leadoff man Masahiro Araki broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning as Central League-leading Chunichi completed a two-game sweep of Fukuoka Softbank in a rematch of last autumn’s Japan Series teams. Softbank fell below .500 for the first time this season.
Chunichi’s Tony Blanco went 3-for-4. He drove in the game’s first run with a two-out, first-inning single and iced it with a two-run homer in the eighth.
Eagles 7, Swallows 1
At Jingu Stadium, a fifth-inning RBI single by Shintaro Masuda and a two-run single by Keiji Oyama put Rakuten starter Manabu Mima (3-1) in the driver’s seat as the Golden Eagles blew out Tokyo Yakult, sending the Swallows to their ninth straight loss.
Mima, the Eagles’ second-round draft pick in 2010, allowed a run over the distance in the first complete game of his career. The Swallows’ Tatsuyoshi Masubuchi, starting for the first time since last October, held the visitors hitless through four, but took the loss after surrendering three runs in the fifth.
BayStars 2, Buffaloes 1
At Yokohama Stadium, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo belted a two-run home run off Orix starter Chihiru Kaneko (2-2) to open the scoring in the second inning, and Yokohama snapped a 14-game losing streak against Orix.
Lefty Shugo Fujii (1-1) held the visitors to a run in five innings to earn his first victory in two years and his first with Yokohama. A former CL wins leader, Fujii has also posted victories with Tokyo Yakult, Hokkaido Nippon Ham and Yomiuri.
Lions 3, Tigers 0
At Koshien Stadium, Yasuyuki Kataoka’s three-run, seventh-inning home run accounted for all the scoring as Seibu’s 2011 rookie of the year Kasuzhisa Makita (3-4) shut out Hanshin on four hits.
The submarine right-hander three times allowed a Tigers runner to get to third, but kept the game scoreless until Kataoka came to the rescue with his second homer of the season.