TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – Nyjer Morgan knows his game. So he wasn’t too hard on himself when he struggled early in the season.
Because he knew that as soon as the weather began to warm up, so too would his bat.
The resurgent Morgan had a come-from-behind three-run home run among his three hits, starter Kazuki Mishima overcame an early bout of shakiness, and the Yokohama BayStars routed the Seibu Lions 7-2 in front of a crowd of 30,803 on Saturday afternoon at Seibu Dome.
“I know I’m a slow starter,” Morgan said. “I know my Aprils, even when I played in the States, aren’t the greatest. In May, I start picking it up, and in June, that’s when things get going.”
He also hinted that the best may be yet to come.
“In July, that’s when everything really fires up,” Morgan said.
After hitting .132 in his first month in Japan, Morgan has a .338 average since May 1. He’s returned strong after a stint on the farm, and things seem to be falling into place for the Yokohama outfielder.
“I get to play,” Morgan said when asked the reason for his turnaround. “Being able to get to play, finding my timing and understanding the pitchers. That’s all it was, just me getting my timing down. The more I see and the more I understand, the better I’m going to become.”
Morgan doubled in his first at-bat Saturday and connected on a three-run homer the next time up. He bunted for a single in his third trip to the plate, but went hitless his next two times up to fall a triple short of the cycle.
“Oh, I was trying,” he said of hitting for the cycle. “I knew. I had two at-bats to get it. If it would’ve happened, it would’ve happened. I’m just happy about my consistency these last two or three weeks.”
The big game earned him his first hero interview of the season, and the man also known as “Tony Plush” didn’t waste it. He tossed a small stuffed DB.Starman (the BayStars’ mascot) toy into a throng of fans, flashed his “T” sign, danced and posed, much to the delight of the BayStars fans crowded near the visitors’ dugout.
“I have fun,” Morgan said. “We play a kid’s game, and I never forget that it’s still a game. I know it’s our career and our job, but it’s still a game. Kids, when they see that, it makes them inspired to go out and play baseball and have fun.”
Norihiro Nakamura also went deep for the BayStars, his two-run shot in the fifth the highlight of a 2-for-4 day at the plate. The home run was the veteran infielder’s ninth of the season. Takayuki Kajitani and Tony Blanco also drove in runs for Yokohama.
Mishima (2-2) lasted 5 1/3 innings, allowing a pair of runs on nine hits and striking out seven. The rookie walked four batters.
“Mishima really picked it up after the come-from-behind home run,” BayStars manager Kiyoshi Nakahata said.
Lions leadoff man Shogo Akiyama began the bottom of the first with a home run, but Seibu couldn’t manage much more despite coming up with 11 hits.
Seibu pitcher Kazuhisa Makita lasted just four innings before manager Hisanobu Watanabe went to the bullpen. Makita (4-4) allowed four runs on five hits, struck out four, walked one and hit a batter.
The Lions have lost seven of their last eight games, and the result ensures they will finish the interleague campaign below .500 after falling to 10-13 with one game left to play. Seibu will still finish higher in the standings than Yokohama, which is bringing up the rear at 7-16.
Akiyama homered to lead off the bottom of the first, giving the Lions an early advantage. Takumi Kuriyama drew a walk later in the frame and Hideto Asamura drove him in with an RBI double that very nearly sneaked over the wall in right.
The BayStars’ Kazunari Tsuruoka and Takahiro Ishikawa each singled to begin the third. Makita retired the next batter, but Morgan then connected on the three-run blast that put his team out front to stay.
Yokohama extended its lead in the fourth on an RBI double by Kajitani, and Nakamura broke the game open with his home run in the fifth. Blanco tacked on an insurance run with a single in the seventh for his NPB-leading 62nd RBI of the season.
The two teams will meet in the finale of their two-games series on Sunday. Shugo Fuji (4-1) is scheduled to get the start for the BayStars against Lions hurler Takayuki Kishi (2-5) in the final interleague game of the season for both teams.
Sugano dominates Hawks
Rookie Tomoyuki Sugano struck out 11 and allowed one run in his first complete game as the Yomiuri Giants defeated the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 6-1 on Saturday, beating new interleague champion Softbank.
Sugano improved to 7-2.
The Giants took a four-run, first-inning lead against Vicente Padilla (2-3) on an error, an RBI single by Jose Lopez and an RBI double by Shuichi Murata. The Hawks had a six-game winning streak snapped.
Swallows 2, Buffaloes 1
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Akinori Iwamura hit a comebacker to the mound for an RBI infield single in the second and Shinichi Takeuchi tacked on a run-scoring double with two outs in the fifth as Tokyo Yakult held off Orix to end a five-game losing streak.
Rookie Yasuhiro Ogawa (6-2) allowed one run over eight strong innings. He struck out two and walked three. Tetsuya Yamamoto had a 1-2-3 ninth for his eighth save. Chihiro Kaneko (4-5) was tagged for the loss for the Buffaloes, who dropped their third in a row.
Eagles 2, Tigers 1
At Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium, Satoshi Nagai limited the damage to one run and five hits over six effective innings, Kazuo Matsui hit a tiebreaking homer, and Tohoku Rakuten edged Hanshin to snap a two-game skid.
Satoshi Nagai (2-2) struck out four and walked four. Koji Aoyama pitched two scoreless innings in relief and Darrell Rasner picked up his sixth save. Matsui led off the third with a shot off Tigers ace Atsushi Nomi (6-3), who took the loss after allowing two runs and three hits in a complete-game defeat.
Dragons 10, Marines 8 (12)
At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Matt Clark hit a two-run homer to break an 8-8 tie in the top of the 12th inning in a seesaw game in which Chunichi finally prevailed over Chiba Lotte in a 5-hours, 44-minute game, the longest this season.
The Dragons squandered a six-run advantage when the Marines rallied from 7-1 down to tie it in the eighth. Chunichi went ahead in the ninth, but Lotte knotted the score again on Tadahito Iguchi’s two-out homer in the home half, forcing the game into extra frames.
Fighters 5, Carp 1
At Sapporo Dome, Hokkaido Nippon Ham opened the scoring on Sho Nakata’s 16th home run, a fourth-inning solo shot off Hiroshima ace and Japan teammate Kenta Maeda (5-4), and cracked open a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the eighth on Atsunori Inaba’s two-run double.
Maeda, making his first start since suffering an injury on June 1, was sharp enough until the eighth inning, when a one-out walk and rookie Shohei Otani’s 11th double of the season set the table for Inaba. The Carp’s defeat halted their five-game winning streak.