TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – Jose Ortiz spent the first part of this season playing in Mexico, where he said he wasn’t really doing too well.
From where the Seibu Lions stand, Ortiz is playing just fine now.
Ortiz broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the sixth inning, and Yusei Kikuchi was on top of his game for much of the night as the Lions earned a 3-2 victory over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on Tuesday night at Seibu Dome.
“The game tonight was tight,” Ortiz said. “I’ve been having some problems with men on base lately, so for me, it feels really good that I was able to put a good swing on that ball, hit it really hard, and give us some momentum.”
The win was an important one for the Lions, who entered the night trailing the first-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters by 1 1/2 games and leading the third-place Fukuoka Softbank Hawks by 2 1/2 in the Pacific League standings.
“Everyday is a battle,” Ortiz said. “We try our best everyday. It’s exciting, but we have to control our excitement.”
Eagles starter Yoshinao Kamata entered the sixth having allowed three hits. He retired the first two batters of the inning, but Lions slugger Takeya Nakamura kept the frame going with a single to left.
Ortiz then swung at the first pitch he saw, sending it hurtling toward the seats in center to give the Lions a 2-0 lead.
“Both pitchers were doing very well,” Ortiz said. “I thank God I was able to get a fastball inside and hit it out of the park.
“I was trying to hit the ball really hard. Nakamura swung 3-0 and he got a hit, and that’s what you want, and I got a very good pitch to hit too.”
Ortiz joined the Lions June 7, but is no stranger to Japan having previously played for the Orix BlueWave (2003-2004), the Chiba Lotte Marines (2007-2008) and the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (2009-2011). He’s hitting .290 with seven home runs and 16 RBIs in 53 games with Seibu this season.
“I don’t want to take anything for granted,” Ortiz said. “I want to work every day, working on my batting, and make the most of any opportunity they give me.”
Pinch hitter Chris Carter tacked on an insurance run for the Lions with an RBI single in the seventh.
Kikuchi got off to a strong start, allowing just one hit through seven innings, but ran into trouble in the eighth. Kikuchi (4-2) was charged with two runs and allowed a pair of hits while striking out two in seven-plus innings.
“His form was pretty good tonight,” said Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe.
Lions closer Hideaki Wakui worked a perfect ninth for his 27th save of the season.
Kamata (7-3) allowed three runs on six hits and struck out four. He also walked two batters in 6 1/3 innings.
“He was throwing some good pitches, but some pitches he missed,” Ortiz said. “I knew he was missing some pitches inside, so I was ready to be aggressive. He was very good, he just missed a couple pitches during the game. We didn’t get them in the beginning, but we came out with the win.”
The Eagles got a rally started in the top of the eighth, with Ginji Akiminai drawing a walk and Akihisa Makita singling to send Kikuchi to the showers. Jose Fernandez followed with an RBI double against rookie Ken Togame and Motohiro Shima drew a walk to load the bases. Pinch hitter Toshiya Nakashima flew out to left for the first out, but reliever Randy Williams hit Ryo Hijirisawa to bring in another run.
Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima fielded a grounder by Kazuya Fujita and fired home for the second out of the frame, and later threw Kazuo Matsui out at first to end the inning.
The loss dealt a blow to the Eagles’ playoff chances. Rakuten entered the night trailing the Hawks by three games for the third and final Pacific League Climax Series spot.
Brandon Duckworth (2-1) will toe the rubber for the Eagles on Wednesday, with Kazuhisa Makita (12-7) getting the start for the home team as both teams continue their push to reach the postseason.
Takeda throws four-hitter
Fukuoka Softbank Hawks rookie Shota Takeda threw his first career complete game, shutting out the hapless Orix Buffaloes 7-0 on Tuesday night in the Pacific League.
The Buffaloes fired manager Akinobu Okada before the first pitch and lost their 12th straight, a new team worst.
Orix had initially placed Okada on leave earlier Tuesday, naming fielding and base running coach Hiroshi Moriwaki as acting manager for the remaining five games of the season.
The Buffaloes, however, changed their mind in a hurry, not waiting to see out the year as Yoshio Murayama, the team’s head of baseball operations, notified Okada of his dismissal before the game at Kyocera Dome.
Okada, naturally, was stunned by the fast turn of events.
“I knew absolutely nothing about it,” said Okada, who was told last week that he would not be brought back for next season but would still finish the year. “I came to the ballpark thinking I was going to be in charge of the game.”
Takeda (7-1) allowed just four hits and a walk, striking out seven during a 111-pitch effort for the Hawks who were led at the plate by a 4-for-4 night from Yuki Yanagita.
Fighters 3, Marines 3 (10)
At Sapporo Dome, Chiba Lotte’s Josh Whitesell made it a 3-3 game and forced extra innings with a solo home run in the eighth as the Marines managed a tie with Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
Giants 3, Carp 2
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Shinnosuke Abe kept alive his Triple Crown hopes by hitting a tie-breaking solo shot in the eighth, his 27th home run of the season, as newly crowned CL champion Yomiuri sent Hiroshima to its eighth straight loss.
Abe comfortably leads in the batting average (.342) and RBI (100) categories, but is now two homers behind Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien.
Swallows 3, Tigers 0
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Shohei Tateyama (12-8) scattered three hits over eight scoreless innings as Yakult sent toothless Hanshin to its third defeat in four games.
Dragons 2, BayStars 2 (11)
At Nagoya Dome, Yokohama wasted a no-out, bases-loaded opportunity in the 10th, settling for a tie with second-place Chunichi.