SENDAI - Masahiro Tanaka improved to 16-0, a Nippon Professional Baseball record, with seven shutout innings on Friday in the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ 5-0 win over the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
By winning his first 16 decisions of the season, Tanaka surpassed the record he shared with two other pitchers. The right-hander, who is a good candidate to be playing in the major leagues next season, allowed four hits and struck out eight batters without issuing a walk before a packed house at Kleenex Stadium. Tanaka has now won his last nine starts.
“I’m really happy,” he said. “Today I went to the mound as I always do, intending to win the game. I gave up some extra-base hits, so I had to dig deep, but I managed to get out of trouble.”
“My teammates put some runs on the board. Those five runs made things a lot easier for me.”
Since his last defeat on Aug. 19, 2012, Tanaka has won 20 consecutive decisions, tying the NPB record.
“That (record) is not my goal,” he said. “That I’ve reached it is due to the collective effort. I’m grateful to everyone.”
The Pacific League-leading Eagles, who have yet to win a pennant since they first took the field in 2005, improved to 20 games over .500 and maintained a 6 1/2 game lead over second-place Lotte.
Hawks lefty Kazuyuki Hoashi kept pace with Tanaka through four innings, but Casey McGehee opened the fifth with a single and scored from first when Shintaro Masuda followed with a double. Masuda took third on a fly to right and Motohiro Shima exploited the Hawks’ drawn-in infield to plate Masuda with a little bouncer up the middle.
The hosts tacked on three more runs in the sixth. Kazuya Fujita and PL batting leader Ginji Akaminai opened the inning with back-to-back singles. McGehee loaded the bases by drawing a one-out walk.
Masuda delivered a deep fly to center that plated one run and advanced the trailing runners into scoring position. The Eagles cashed both men in on consecutive RBI singles by Kazuo Matsui and Shima. Shima’s came off Softbank’s second pitcher of the game, right-hander Shinya Kayama.
Hoashi (7-5) allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings. The side-armer gave up eight hits and a walk, while hitting a batter and striking out two.
After 92 pitches over seven innings, Tanaka was taken out with a five-run lead, and the move almost proved the Eagles undoing. Right-hander Shinichiro Koyama loaded the bases with one out on two singles. Koji Aoyama, however, saved the day by striking out two-time batting champ Seiichi Uchikawa for the second out and retiring cleanup hitter Nobuhiro Matsuda on a routine grounder.
Eagles lefty Norihito Kaneto allowed two on with one out in the ninth, but former Los Angeles Dodgers closer Takashi Saito pitched out of trouble to preserve the shutout.
Tanaka started the game with a share of the record for the longest winning streak to start a season, set by Shigekuni Mashiba of the Nippon Ham Fighters in 1981 and tied by the Hawks’ Kazumi Saito in 2005.
The record of 20 consecutive decisions was set by Kiyoshi Matsuda of the Yomiuri Giants from 1951 to 1952 and equaled by Kazuhisa Inao in 1957 with the Nishitetsu Lions.
Marines 2, Fighters 0
At Sapporo Dome, Chiba Lotte right-hander Yuji Nishino (9-3) allowed three hits over eight innings, allowing one walk and striking out five in a win over Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
PL saves leader Naoya Masuda worked the ninth to complete the three-hit shutout and earn his 26th save. Tadahito Iguchi and Craig Brazell each singled in a run in the first inning. Double-duty Fighters rookie Shohei Otani pitched two scoreless innings in his first career relief appearance.
Lions 7, Buffaloes 4
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Seibu came from a run down on the strength of a four-run sixth inning and held on to beat Orix.
Shogo Akiyama’s RBI single tied it and Ryan Spilborghs’ ground single put the Lions in front. Yuji Onizaki capped the rally with a two-run single.
Veteran Jose Fernandez went 2-for-4 in his season debut with the Buffaloes, singling in his first at-bat and triggering a ninth-inning uprising with a one-out solo homer.
Dragons 4, Tigers 2
At Nagoya Dome, Chunichi lefty Yudai Ono (7-7) allowed two runs — one earned — in seven innings, and Kazuhiro Wada broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the third with his 14th home run, a two-out solo shot, in a win over Hanshin.
Ono allowed four hits and three walks, while striking out five. Takuya Asao allowed a hit in a scoreless eighth, while closer Hitoki Iwase struck out the last two batters to strand two runners and record his 26th save.
Giants 5, Carp 4
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, league-leading Yomiuri overturned a four-run deficit to win its fourth straight after Hiroshima’s defense crumbled in the eighth inning.
Yoshinobu Takahashi doubled in a run in the sixth and Hisayoshi Chono’s two-run single in the seventh made it a one-run game. The Giants scored the go-ahead run thanks to two errors and a walk.
Yoshihiro Maru put the Carp’s first runs on the board with a pair of solo homers.