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Laird leads Fighters to seventh consecutive victory

by Dave Hueston

Kyodo

Brandon Laird took advantage of Wade LeBlanc’s implosion in the fourth inning with a go-ahead two-run single to help rally his team as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters routed the Seibu Lions 6-1 to win their seventh in a row on Wednesday night.

The first-place Fighters won seven in a row for the first time since 2009, when they went on a nine-game winning streak under former manager Masataka Nashida en route to reaching the Japan Series.

LeBlanc was nearly unhittable for the first three innings against fellow lefty Mitsuo Yoshikawa, but the Fighters did all the damage necessary, and then some, in the decisive inning to get in the driver’s seat in front of 23,228 at Tokyo Dome.

LeBlanc, who allowed just one unearned run in six innings to win his Japan debut on April 2, issued a leadoff walk in the fourth and another free pass one out later to cleanup man Sho Nakata, before Jeremy Hermida barely beat out an infield single to first baseman Ernesto Mejia to load the bases.

Laird then hit a line drive to center to give the Fighters a 2-1 lead. Another run scored on a passed ball and another on Kensuke Kondo’s RBI double, ending LeBlanc’s night.

“I know LeBlanc,” Laird said about the lefty who had stints with the Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees in 2014. “He’s an older guy who knows how to pitch. I was swinging at some sliders down in the zone and had to battle and get a ball up to get it to 3-2. I got a pitch over the middle of the plate and just put a good swing on it.”

Takuya Nakashima and Kensuke Tanaka threw salt in the wound with an RBI single and a run-scoring double, respectively, off reliever Toshihiro Iwao in the six-run frame.

Yoshikawa, who yielded one run and seven hits with five strikeouts and three walks in six innings, had his first sign of control issues in the third. The 2012 Pacific League MVP continued to struggle, in particular when he loaded the bases with one out in the sixth, but he struck out Naoto Watanabe swinging and got Shogo Akiyama to line out to shortstop to end the threat.

“This team had a lot of momentum coming into this game and I took the mound with that in mind,” said Yoshikawa. “I am glad that I was able to keep the damage to just to one run and my teammates baled me out so we could come from behind for the win. The six runs were really huge tonight,” he said.

Takumi Kuriyama opened the scoring in the top of third with an RBI single down the left-field line to give Seibu a 1-0 lead.

Eagles 1, Hawks 0 (10)

At Sendai’s Kobo Miyagi Stadium, Takero Okajima had a walk-off sacrifice fly in the 10th inning as Tohoku Rakuten edged Fukuoka Softbank. The Hawks suffered through their third scoreless game in a row.

Marines 2, Buffaloes 1

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Carp 3, Giants 2

At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Miles Mikolas (0-1) threw a wild pitch that pushed in the tiebreaking run in the fifth inning and Hiroshima held on to snap a seven-game skid by edging Yomiuri.

Swallows 2, Dragons 1 (10)

At Jingu Stadium, Hiroyasu Tanaka hit a game-winning RBI single in the 10th inning as Yakult snapped Chunichi’s winning streak at seven games. Akifumi Takahashi (2-1) was charged with the loss.

BayStars 6, Tigers 1