Matsunaka gives Hawks a spark in team’s eighth straight triumph


Former Triple Crown winner Nobuhiko Matsunaka delivered a tie-breaking, pinch-hit double on Sunday as the Pacific League-leading Fukuoka Softbank Hawks reeled off their eighth straight win by beating the Nippon Ham Fighters 6-4.

With game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Hawks skipper Koji Akiyama sent Matsunaka, who entered the game 2-for-19 on the season up to bat against hard-throwing youngster Shohei Otani (9-3).

With two on and two outs, the 40-year-old left-handed hitter swung and missed badly at a 1-0 forkball to run the count to 1-1, when Otani missed badly with a curve that hung up in the zone. Matsunaka, who won the PL Triple Crown in 2004, smacked it past the third base bag and down the line for a double that plated Lee Dae-ho to give the Hawks a 4-3 lead.

“I have continued to get such great support from the fans, and I felt that again today,” said Matsunaka, who hasn’t been an everyday player since 2009. “I owe the fans a debt of gratitude and I badly wanted to do something to repay them.”

Seldom-used right-hander Kim Mu-yon (1-0) worked 1-1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn his second career victory.

Otani allowed five runs in six innings. The 20-year-old gave up nine hits and four walks. He hit one batter, while striking out four.

With Softbank leading 5-4 in the seventh, Akiyama ordered a suicide squeeze with Fighters reliever Anthony Carter on the mound.

“I figured a foreign pitcher might not be as used to that kind of thing so we went for it,” Akiyama said.

The Hawks’ victory moved them 4-1/2 games clear of the second-place Orix Buffaloes, who had all three of their weekend games in Sendai rained out.

Marines 4, Lions 3

At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Alfredo Despaigne singled in the game’s first run and ace Yoshihisa Naruse (7-6) allowed two runs in 6-2/3 innings as Chiba Lotte withstood late home runs from Ernesto Mejia and Takeya Nakamura to beat Seibu.

Buffaloes at Eagles — ppd.

Giants 2, Dragons 0

At Tokyo Dome, right-hander Kan Otake (8-5) allowed a run in 6-2/3 innings and Yomiuri scored on third-inning RBI singles from Hayato Sakamoto and Shinnosuke Abe to beat fourth-place Chunichi.

Carp 7, Tigers 3

At Oaska’s Kyocera Dome, Kila Ka’aihui doubled in two runs in a three-run first inning, singled to lead off a three-run eighth and right-hander Yuya Fukui (3-1) allowed three runs in five innings to earn third straight victory as Hiroshima beat Hanshin.

BayStars 6, Swallows 3

At Yokohama Stadium, Yokohama right-hander Kentaro Takasaki (1-0) held hot-hitting Tokyyo Yakult to two runs on six hits and two walks over six innings, drove in a run and earned the victory in a game that started 1 hour, 21 minutes late due to rain.