TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. - Ernesto Mejia slammed a bat into the side of a batting cage before the Seibu Lions’ game on Thursday. After the game, any frustration he might’ve been feeling melted away into elation, and a wet jersey.
Mejia hit a sayonara single into center, and his teammates showered him with water, as the Lions pulled out a 5-4 win over the Hiroshima Carp in a back-and-forth game in front of 20,867 fans at Seibu Prince Dome.
“I was only looking for a fastball and trying to have a good reaction to any breaking ball,” Mejia said. “I just wanted to put the ball in play and see what happened, and I got lucky. I guess I hit it good and we won the game.”
Mejia has had a slow start to the season for Seibu. He entered the game hitting just .218 and on the heels of a three-strikeout night on Wednesday.
The Venezuelan slugger said he’s been feeling a lot better recently. A 2-for-5 night, complete with the game-winning hit, was another step in the right direction.
“I feel really happy,” he said. “It’s been a tough start to the season for me. To help the team win a game this way makes me feel very happy and confident.”
With the game knotted at 4-4, Seibu pinch hitter Yutaro Osaki began the bottom half of the ninth with a single and was replaced by pinch runner Shotaro Tashiro, who went to second on a groundout by Shogo Akiyama. The next batter, Takumi Kuriyama drew a walk to put runners on first and second.
The Carp seemed to catch a break when Tashiro was called out for interference after a ball hit by Hideto Asamura struck him between second and third.
Seibu then loaded the bases with two away after Takeya Nakamura drew a walk. That brought Mejia to the plate and he delivered on the sixth pitch of the at-bat.
“I was just concentrating and trying to put the ball in play some way, somehow,” Mejia said. I knew the pitcher was good and I was just trying to do something to help the team, and thank God, I did.”
Mejia was the Pacific League co-home run champion, sharing the crown with Nakamura, in 2014 and is hoping to get back to knocking the ball over the fence as his bat warms up.
“Nakamura is hitting a lot of home runs this year,” said Mejia who has 10 (Nakamura has 18). “I hope I hit home runs to help the team. We’ll see what happens at the end of the season.
“Since a week ago, I’ve been feeling really good, and I know home runs are coming. A lot of home runs are coming.”
Seibu reliever Tomomi Takahashi (1-0), who leads the Pacific League in saves (17), retired all three batters he faced in the top of the ninth and was credited with his first win of the season.
“Vasquez and Masuda had held them down and my feeling was that I also wanted to go out and hold them down,” Takahashi said, referring to Esmerling Vasquez and Tatsushi Masuda, who threw scoreless frames in the seventh and eighth, respectively.
Hiroshima’s Deunte Heath (0-3) took the loss.
The Carp jumped out to an early lead with two runs in the first on a sacrifice fly by Takahiro Arai and an RBI single from Seiya Suzuki.
Nakamura got the Lions on the board in the bottom half of the inning with a sacrifice fly. Mejia kept the rally going with a game-tying RBI single, and Tomoya Mori put the home team ahead 3-2 with an run-scoring hit to center.
The lead was short-lived, as Brad Eldred delighted the Carp fans who made the trip with a two-run home run, his fifth of the year, in the third.
The Lions battled back again in the fourth, tying the score on a RBI single by Kuriyama.
The teams remained deadlocked until Seibu went ahead for good in the ninth.
“This is the first walk-off hit for me in Japan,” Mejia said. “I’m very happy to help the team. It’s unbelievable, the feeling here…the fans. It makes you play harder for the fans.”
Wada reaches 2,000-hit milestone
Kazuhiro Wada became the 45th player to reach 2,000 career hits in Japan’s top flight on Thursday, when the 42-year-old went 3-for-4 for the Chunichi Dragons in a 6-0 interleague win over the Chiba Lotte Marines.
Wada, the third player to achieve the mark after finishing university and playing corporate ball, became the oldest to break the 2,000-hit barrier at 42 years, 11 months — surpassing the previous mark held by Dragons player-manager Motonobu Tanishige.
“When I started, I never imagined I’d achieve these numbers,” said Wada, who missed the end of last season and the first part of this one due to injury. “I’m here, although it took a while because of injuries. I’m not certain if the (age) record is something to be proud of, but perhaps you could say I did it at my pace and in my way.
“I had thought that today would feel somewhat different, but it was just like every other game.”
With two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the first at QVC Marine Field, Wada singled in two runs to open the scoring. He reached 2,000 with a second-inning single in Chunichi’s four-run second, and singled again in the fifth.
Dragons lefty Yudai Ono, the Central League’s pitcher of the month for May, struck out 13 in a four-hit shutout to improve to 7-2 on the season.
The visitors broke open the game in the second, when Lotte lefty Masatomo Uematsu (0-2) hit the leadoff batter and walked the bases loaded before Hector Luna blasted a grand slam, his fourth homer of the season.
The CL MVP in 2010, Wada began his career as a backup catcher and part-time outfielder with the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions. In 2002, then Lions skipper Haruki Ihara made Wada a regular for the first time at the age of 30 and his career took off like a rocket.
Wada, the PL’s batting champ in 2005, won five consecutive Best IX Awards and the native of Gifu Prefecture moved to nearby Nagoya with the Dragons as a free agent after the 2007 season.
“It’s a magnificent record,” said Marines manager Tsutomu Ito, whose imposing presence as Seibu’s everyday catcher for many years prevented Wada from getting more playing time early in his career.
“I said to absolutely not give him anything to hit, but he was too good. We’ve known each other for so long, so speaking for myself, I’m relieved that he could do it in front of me.”
Buffaloes 3, Swallows 1
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Brandon Dickson (7-4) allowed a run over eight innings and Hiroyuki Nakajima hit a two-run homer, his first at Orix’s home park since joining the club over the winter, in a win over Tokyo Yakult.
Giants 8, Fighters 4
At Sapporo Dome, Takehiro Donoue went 4-for-4 with a double, triple and four RBIs to pace Yomiuri’s 15-hit attack in a win over Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
Ryoji Aikawa had three hits for the Giants and iced the game in the ninth with a three-run triple.
Hawks 5, Tigers 3 (11)
At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, Nobuhiro Matsuda homered for the third straight game, hitting a two-run sayonara home run in the 11th inning to lift Fukuoka Softbank over Hanshin in a matchup of last year’s Japan Series contestants.
Eagles 7, BayStars 5
At Sendai’s Kobo Stadium, Zelous Wheeler’s two-run homer in the fifth halved a four-run deficit for Tohoku Rakuten before Kazuo Matsui’s grand slam off Hideki Okajima (0-1) in the sixth propelled the Eagles to a comeback victory over Yokohama.