SAPPORO – Double-duty right-hander Shohei Otani struck out nine in a five-hit shutout as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters defeated the pennant-contending Orix Buffaloes 1-0 on Saturday.
Before 34,675 at Sapporo Dome, Otani (11-4) got a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh on an RBI single by Keiji Obiki, and escaped his biggest jam with a double play in the eighth after surrendering a pair of no-out singles.
Otani walked two batters in his second shutout of the season to outduel rookie Daiki Tomei, who allowed just one hit through six innings.
“Tomei was pitching with such a great rhythm. I just tried to do whatever I could not to be beaten,” Otani said. “I wasn’t in such great form today, but my catcher (Shota) Ono pulled me through.”
Otani struck out the side in the top of the seventh and the Fighters lineup finally got on the board in the home half. Sho Nakata opened the inning with a single, went to second on a one-out single by Kensuke Kondo and broke the ice on Obiki’s single.
Back-to-back Buffaloes singles in the eighth put runners on the corners with no outs. Orix No. 9 hitter Hikaru Ito tried to squeeze home the tying run, but bunted it hard back to Nakata at first base, who fired home to get the out at the plate.
“That was a brutal situation, but Nakata bailed me out with that big play,” said Otani, who then got a groundball to shortstop Obiki, who started a routine 6-4-3 double play. “I am really grateful to him for that.”
When not pitching, Otani spends a few days each week as the Fighters’ designated hitter and is batting .283 with 10 home runs in 198 at-bats. He’s the only Japanese player ever to reach double digits in home runs and wins in the same season.
“I just do my best to help the team win when I pitch, and support the pitchers when I’m in the lineup,” Otani said.
Asked if he had his eye on matching Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Babe Ruth’s 1918 totals of 13 wins and 11 home runs, Otani said he would give it a shot.
“I’d like to, but my focus is on winning games,” Otani said. “Besides, I’m not really a home run hitter. But if I get a chance, I’d love to do it.”
Hawks 3, Marines 2
At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, Lee Dae Ho broke a 2-2 tie with a fourth-inning home run off Chiba Lotte ace Yoshihisa Naruse (8-10), while Nobuhiro Matsuda also went deep with a two-run shot for league-leading Fukuoka Softbank.
Eagles 8, Lions 3
At Seibu Dome, Takahiro Norimoto (12-9) allowed three runs in eight innings, Andruw Jones hit a two-run, first-inning homer and Tohoku Rakuten cruised past Seibu and moved past the Lions into fifth place.
Giants 2, BayStars 0
At Tokyo Dome, Hisayoshi Chono broke up a scoreless game with a two-run, eighth-inning double off Guillermo Moscoso (8-8) as Yomiuri’s Yuki Koyama and two relievers shut out Yokohama for the second straight day.
Carp 17, Tigers 5
At Koshien Stadium, Rainel Rosario drove in the first two of his four runs with a first-inning single, Shota Dobayashi homered twice, rookie Daichi Osera (9-6) worked eight innings and Hiroshima reached a season high in runs in a win over Hanshin.
Swallows 2, Dragons 1
At Nagoya Dome, Yuhei Takai’s two-run, eighth-inning single brought Tokyo Yakult from behind against Chunichi, which took the early lead.