Buffaloes veteran Hirai denies Giants to preserve tie


Masafumi Hirai pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the 12th inning on Sunday as the Orix Buffaloes held the Central League-leading Yomiuri Giants to a 5-5 tie in a see-saw interleague game at Tokyo Dome.

The right-hander, who led the Pacific League in saves in 1995 with Orix as a 20-year-old and returned to the club this season for the first time in 11 seasons, preserved a tie after the Buffaloes failed to score in the top of the inning.

He allowed Tetsuya Matsumoto’s fifth single of the game to lead off the inning, but then retired Yomiuri’s two most dangerous hitters, Hayato Sakamoto and Shinnosuke Abe. A two-out single put runners on the corners, and after a walk loaded the bases, Hirai ended the game by striking out pinch hitter Kazunari Sanematsu on four pitches.

“It’s great to be in a position where if I do my best it means something,” said Hirai, who was released after pitching in just two games in 2012 for the Chunichi Dragons. “I don’t have many chances to pitch, so I have to just keep my chin up and do my best in the opportunities I get.”

Avoiding a loss in Japan sparks congratulatory handshaking by the visiting players, something which surprised the Buffaloes’ Vinnie Rottino, whose sixth-inning homer tied the game 3-3 and triggered a three-run Orix inning.

“Shaking hands after a tie?” he said. “That’s a new one.”

Orix cracked the scoreboard in the first inning with the first of two unearned runs against southpaw Tetsuya Utsumi.

The Giants took the lead in the bottom of the inning, when Orix right-hander Yuki Nishi saw his command wanting. Matsumoto got Yomiuri started with a one-out single. Sakamoto’s single put men on the corners and Abe doubled them both home. A well-executed Giants small-ball attack in the second made it 3-1.

In the third, however, Giants second baseman Soichiro Tateoka dropped a sure double-play grounder that left two on instead of ending the inning and Yoshio Itoi capitalized with another RBI single, and trailing by a run in the sixth, the Buffaloes stuck a fork in Utsumi.

With one out after a superb catch by Matsumoto in center, Rottino belted a first-pitch changeup into the stands, and Utsumi unraveled. Former Giant Shinji Takahashi delivered the go-ahead run with a double, and another former Giant, Kazunao Yamamoto, put the ball in play, allowing a run to score on a groundout.

“We were sunk today by poor defense,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “We were not prepared well enough to play this game.”

The Giants, however, tied it in the seventh. Matsumoto’s fourth single set up Sakamoto, who took former closer Mamoru Kishida deep with his sixth homer of the year.

Tigers 7, Fighters 1

At Koshien Stadium, Hanshin scored six runs in the first inning and teenage rookie Shintaro Fujinami (4-1) allowed a run in seven innings to earn the win over Hokkaido Nippon Ham. After Fujinami retired the visitors in order in the top of the first, seven consecutive Tigers reached base in the home half of the inning.

Fujinami allowed six hits but did not walk a batter, while striking out two. Teenage Fighters rookie Shohei Otani, who made his first-team pitching debut on Thursday, returned to right field, where he went 2-for-4 with two doubles, raising his average to .326.

Dragons 3, Lions 1

At Nagoya Dome, Hector Luna scored Chunichi’s first two runs and drove in the third the day after his 23-game hitting streak came to an end, and seven Dragons pitchers held Seibu to a run on six hits.

Luna doubled and scored the game’s first run on Kazuhiro Wada’s fourth-inning single. Motonobu Tanishige broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth, driving in Luna from third with a sacrifice fly.

Marines 4, BayStars 1

At Yokohama Stadium, Chiba Lotte’s Yuta Omine (3-1) threw seven scoreless innings to win his third straight decision, as Yokohama once more failed to muster any runs for rookie Kazuki Mishima (0-2).

Mishima allowed two runs in eight innings to take the loss. The BayStars’ second-round draft pick has allowed four runs in his last 24 innings, but Yokohama has scored just two runs in those three games.

Carp 6, Eagles 4

At Mazda Stadium, Ryuhei Matsuyama’s three-run homer gave Hiroshima a fourth-inning lead, and Yoshihiro Maru added a two-run shot in the sixth as Carp ace Kenta Maeda (5-2) went seven innings for the win.

The right-hander gave up eight hits and struck out 10 and did not issue a walk. Carp closer Kam Mickolio retired the Eagles in order in the top of the ninth for his ninth save.

Hawks 4, Swallows 0

At Jingu Stadium, longtime major leaguer Vicente Padilla allowed two hits over seven innings and two relievers completed the shutout as Fukuoka Softbank beat Tokyo Yakult.

Padilla (2-1) struck out four without walking a batter, and Brian Falkenborg worked the ninth to close it out in a non-save situation after former National League All-Star Bryan LaHair doubled in an insurance run in the ninth.