Luis Mendoza had a hard time against the Seibu Lions in 2014. In their first meeting this year, it was Mendoza, who got a helping hand from Sho Nakata and Kensuke Tanaka, and left standing as the king of the Tokyo Jungle.
Mendoza threw eight scoreless innings, Nakata and Tanaka connected on two-run homers, and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, the Pacific League’s hottest team, beat the Lions 4-0 on Tuesday night at Tokyo Dome.
“It feels great,” Mendoza said. “I got early runs and my team was playing good defense. I just tried to make quick outs and have fast innings.”
The Fighters improved to 8-2 with their sixth straight victory.
“The team’s current condition seems really good,” Nakata said.
Good pitching has been one of the keys of the Fighters’ early-season run. They’ve allowed more than three runs just once during the streak, and got another solid performance on the mound against Seibu, with Mendoza in the driver’s seat for most of the night.
Mendoza (1-1) allowed three hits, struck out two and walked three.
“There was a little pressure,” the right-hander said. “The team is playing very good, so I just wanted to jump on the train and keep us playing good.”
He was able to bounce back from a loss in his season debut against the Chiba Lotte Marines on March 31, when he allowed five runs — four earned — in six innings.
“To be serious, I didn’t change anything,” Mendoza said. “We mixed the pitches, and he (catcher Ryo Ishikawa) knows my pitches very well and he just put the fingers down, and I just trusted my pitching.”
Mendoza didn’t pitch well against the Lions in 2014, when he was 0-3 with a 6.45 ERA in four starts, but tamed the hard-slugging club and all its big bats on Tuesday.
“It’s a pretty tough lineup,” Mendoza said. “They’re good hitters. I just tried to trust my pitches. I just threw change-ups, curveballs and tried to not stay on one side of the plate.”
Nakata connected on his NPB-leading fourth home run, and second in as many games, in the third inning, going deep to left-center off Seibu starter Ken Togame.
Tanaka’s two-run blast home run in the fifth was his first of the season and first since returning to Japan after two seasons of playing in the U.S. — mostly in the minor leagues, though with a 15-game stint for the San Francisco Giants in 2013.
Tanaka finished 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. Ishikawa also had a pair of hits for Nippon Ham.
“There’s great atmosphere during games and we want to keep that going and keep winning,” Tanaka said.
All the Fighters’ runs came against Togame, who threw five innings. Togame (0-1) allowed five hits, struck out seven and walked three. He pitched well but paid a high price for the few mistakes he made, especially the ill-placed pitches he threw against Nakata and Tanaka with runners on base.
The Fighters put pressure on the Lions early in the game.
Tanaka got things going with a one-out single in the third. Later in the inning, Nakata worked the count to 3-0 and thought he’d drawn a walk on a 121-kph slider. But the home plate umpire ruled it a strike, a decision that would prove fortuitous, and Nakata sent the very next pitch into the seats to give Nippon Ham a 2-0 advantage.
Nippon Ham doubled its lead in a fifth. Haruki Nishikawa drew a walk to begin the frame and Tanaka followed with his two-run shot to right that made the score 4-0.
The two teams will meet again on Wednesday night at Tokyo Dome. Mitsuo Yoshikawa will be on the hill for Nippon Ham. Seibu will counter with Wade LeBlanc, who will be pitching in Tokyo Dome for the first time.
“It’s cool,” LeBlanc said. “You hear a lot about it, so I think there’s a lot of history here. It’s really cool. It’s kind of similar to Boston or Chicago, Wrigley Field, lot of history, so it’s cool to be a part of it.”
Eagles 0, Hawks 0 (12)
Marines 2, Buffaloes 1
Dragons blank Swallows
Chunichi Dragons starter Yudai Ono (1-0) scattered seven hits and a walk over the distance as front-running Chunichi defeated Tokyo Yakult 1-0 on Tuesday.
The Swallows wasted six solid innings from Yoshihisa Naruse (1-1).
Giants 2, Carp 1
BayStars 8, Tigers 3