Shinnosuke Abe stood at the plate with two outs and down to his final strike with his team losing in the eighth inning.
Then the Yomiuri Giants captain did what he almost always does: he came through with the big hit.
Abe connected on a come-from-behind, three-run home run, and the Giants rallied past the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to earn a 4-2 win in front of a crowd of 45,607 on Thursday at Tokyo Dome.
“Abe is our captain and cleanup hitter, and he came through for us tonight as he has so many times before,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.
Yomiuri trailed 2-1 entering the eighth. Pinch hitter Yoshihito Ishii reached on an error by Keiji Obiki to begin the frame and was lifted for pinch runner Takahiro Suzuki, who moved to second on a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt from Daisuke Nakai.
Yoshiyuki Kamei grounded out to the pitcher, but Yuya Ishii walked the next batter, Hayato Sakamoto.
The Kyojin executed a double-steal with Abe at the plate, but Hara could’ve played it safe as the reigning CL MVP soon sent a ball flying over the wall in right field.
“It’s a great feeling to turn the game around like that,” Abe said.
Jose Lopez also homered for Yomiuri, a solo shot in the second, and finished 2-for-3.
The win comes one night after Yomiuri beat the Fighters 4-1 on Michihiro Ogasawara’s sayonara three-run homer and gives the Kyojin a sweep of the teams’ two-game interleague series.
“The Nippon Ham pitchers were good last night and tonight, but we were able to get them late in the game and pull out a couple of come-from-behind victories,” Abe said.
Scott Mathieson earned the win in relief to improve to 1-2 on the year.
The two-game set was a rematch of the 2012 Japan Series, which the Kyojin won. Abe drove in the go-ahead run in the deciding sixth game of that series at Tokyo Dome last fall.
His heroics on Thursday spoiled a valiant effort by Michel Abreu, who hit a pair of home runs for the Fighters.
The Cuban slugger went deep in the first and again in the sixth, solo shots that accounted for all of Nippon Ham’s offensive output. He added a single in the eighth to end his night 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.
The Nippon Ham infielder has been on a tear of late, and is 8-for-26 with three homers and eight RBIs since May 26. Abreu is hitting .270 with 17 homers and 36 RBIs overall this year.
“Right now I feel like I’ve got my timing down,” Abreu said. “I’ve been working my swing. I’m trying to do that every at-bat. Just want to keep going and trying to win games, keep swinging good and keep swinging hard.”
Obiki also had a multi-hit night, finishing 2-for-4, while rookie sensation Shohei Otani was 1-for-4.
Ishii (2-3) was charged with the loss in relief after allowing three unearned runs in the eighth. Nippon Ham’s Hiroshi Kisanuki got the start against his old team and threw six-plus innings of one-run ball. Kisanuki nearly aided his own cause with a runner on third in the fifth, forcing Yomiuri shortstop Sakamoto to make a diving catch on a hard-hit ball that would’ve driven in a run.
Abreu started the scoring with his solo homer in the first off starter D.J. Houlton. Lopez later tied the score by leading off the second with his 11th home run of the season.
The game remained deadlocked at 1-1 until Abreu went deep for the second time to make the score 2-1 in Nippon Ham’s favor.
The Giants mounted a serious challenge in the seventh, after Kisanuki walked Abe and Lopez to start the inning before being lifted for Naoki Miyanishi.
In a curious move, Hara sent up Kenji Yano to pinch-hit for John Bowker, only to have the replacement attempt to bunt the runner over. Yano instead bunted into a fielder’s choice as Miyanishi fielded the ball and fired to third to get Abe. Shuichi Murata flied out to center for the second out of the inning, and Hisayoshi Chono struck out to end the threat.
The Fighters’ 2-1 lead held up until Abe turned the tables on them in the eighth.
Murton lifts Tigers
NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo Pref.
Hanshin’s Matt Murton homered off Seibu starter Kazuhisa Makita (4-3) in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Tigers to a 2-1 triumph, their second straight sayonara victory over the Seibu Lions, on Thursday.
Randy Messenger allowed a run in seven innings for Hanshin, but got a no-decision after he gave up the tying run on Hideto Asamura’s fourth-inning homer, Asamura’s second in two days.
Dragons 2, Buffaloes 1
At Nagoya Dome, Masahiko Morino brought Chunichi from behind with a two-run homer off Orix’s second pitcher Motoki Higa (1-2) after lefty Kei Igawa spun six scoreless innings for the Buffaloes.
Daisuke Yamai (1-2) allowed just a run on nine hits over seven innings. The right-hander struck out six without walking a batter.
Hawks 6, BayStars 3
At Yokohama Stadium, Nobuhiro Matsuda broke a seventh-inning tie with a two-run double and Fukuoka Softbank went on to beat Yokohama, which lost its third straight game.
The BayStars’ Tony Blanco hit a solo homer, his Japan-best 22nd home run clear out of the ballpark to tie the game in the second, and teammate Norihiro Nakamura homered in the sixth to tie it 2-2.
Eagles 9, Swallows 4
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, former Milwaukee Brewer Casey McGehee homered and had three RBIS for the second straight night as Tohoku Rakuten defeated Tokyo Yakult.
Trailing 2-0 in the fourth, two runners reached after two were out against Swallows ace Masanori Ishikawa (2-5), who surrendered McGehee’s 11th home run of the season.
Eagles rookie Takahiro Norimoto (6-3) allowed three runs in six innings to earn the victory.
Carp 4, Marines 1
At Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture’s Shimanami Stadium, the hosts came from behind and snapped a six-game losing streak with a win over PL-leading Chiba Lotte.
The Carp tied it in the fifth on pinch hitter Takahiro Iwamoto’s RBI single and moved in front in the sixth when a run scored on a double play grounder. Eishin Soyogi, who had a superb game in the field, iced it in the eighth with a two-run double.
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