Brandon Laird became famous for his sushi-themed home run celebration, and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters got to see it quite often. If the American slugger has his way, the next craze in Hokkaido will be the phrase “oshare” or “stylish.”
Laird hit a tiebreaking three-run home run during an eventful sixth inning, Kohei Arihara had a solid day on the mound, and last season’s Pacific League runners-up held off a late rally to beat the reigning PL champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks 4-3 in front of an Sunday afternoon crowd of 32,554 at Tokyo Dome.
“I just wanted to try to get a big hit,” Laird said. “I know Arihara was battling the entire game, so I was trying to give him runs.”
The Fighters took two out of three against the Hawks in the teams’ first series of the season.
“We really wanted to win this game and I’m glad we did,” Arihara said.
Laird reached base three times, walking and recording a single in his first two trips to the plate. His third plate appearance proved to be his most fruitful, as Laird, who finished tied for third with 34 home runs last season, sent a ball into the seats for the first time this year.
“What is it, our eighth game?” Laird asked. “Yeah, it was about time. I was due for one.”
The game turned the Fighters’ way in the sixth, with the score 1-0 in the Hawks’ favor, after a takeout slide by former major leaguer Kensuke Tanaka.
Haruki Nishikawa walked to begin the frame and went to third on a single by Kensuke Tanaka. Nakata then hit a grounder to third base that was fielded by Nobuhiro Matsuda who fired to second for the force-out as Nishikawa scored. Tanaka, looking to break up a potential double play, slid into Keizo Kawashima, injuring the second baseman.
That prompted a lengthy discussion between animated SoftBank skipper Kimiyasu Kudo, who felt the slide was dangerous, and the umpires as Kawashima limped off the field. Kawashima was eventually replaced by Yuichi Honda, and Tanaka was loudly booed by Hawks fans in attendance during his next at-bat, in the eighth.
After the dust settled, Hawks starter Shota Takeda gave up a hit to Shohei Otani and eventually yielded Laird’s three-run blast.
“That was a big play,” Laird said. “He broke up a possible double play. We got a run across the board and kept the inning alive.”
Laird teamed up with teammate Daikan Yoh in front of the home dugout after his home run, patting two fingers into his palm, his famous celebration from last season, while Yoh popped his jersey nearby. During his hero interview, Laird added “oshare ya” at the end of his message to the fans.
“Nishikawa said it’s a new thing I gotta say,” Laird joked. “He told me I had to do it in the hero interview.”
Laird and Arihara also proved to be a pretty dynamic duo.
Arihara, last season’s rookie of the year, held the Hawks’ powerful lineup in check for most of the game and induced some flailing attempts with a sharp forkball. Arihara (2-0) threw eight innings on one-run ball, striking out six and walking two. It was his first career victory against SoftBank, having gone 0-1 in four starts against the Hawks last season.
He only pitched in Tokyo Dome once last season and was buoyed by a grand slam Laird hit during that victory. This time, Laird helped lift him with a three-run shot.
“Please keep hitting home runs for me,” Arihara said during the hero interview.
Laird, for his part, is happy to oblige.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “If I keep hitting them with Arihara pitching he better be taking me to some nice dinners,” Laird joked.
Fighters shortstop Takuya Nakashima finished with three hits for Nippon Ham, which had nine in total. Otani, in the lineup as the designated hitter after striking out six as the start pitcher in the first game of the series on Friday, went 1-for-4 and Sho Nakata drove in a run.
Takeda (1-1) gave up four runs on eight hits over seven innings. He struck out one and walked a pair.
SoftBank’s Hiroaki Takaya drove in a run with a squeeze bunt in the fifth, while Shinya Tsuruoka and Kenta Imamiya picked up RBIs in the ninth.
SoftBank made the Fighters sweat late, driving in a pair of runs off closer Hirotoshi Masui. The Hawks closed the gap to 4-3 and had the bases loaded with two away for reigning PL MVP Yuki Yanagita before Masui nailed down the save with a called third strike.
Buffs beat Marines
Brandon Dickson (2-0) allowed six hits over the distance and Yoshio Itoi’s two-run, two-out, seventh-inning double broke a tie as the Orix Buffaloes beat the Chiba Lotte Marines 3-1 at Kyocera Dome on Sunday.
Lions 3, Eagles 2
At Kobo Stadium Miyagi, Seibu’s Andy Van Hekken allowed two runs in seven innings but did not figure in the decision as his team took the lead in the ninth on a Yuji Onizaki RBI single that kept the Lions from being swept by Tohoku Rakuten.
Dragons 3, Swallows 2
At Jingu Stadium, Iori Katsura hit a two-run, come-from-behind home run off rookie Juri Hara (0-1) in the seventh inning as Chunichi avoided being swept by Tokyo Yakult. Australian Drew Naylor (1-0) allowed two runs in 6⅔ innings to pick up the win.
Tigers 8, BayStars 3
At Yokohama Stadium, Mauro Gomez hit his fourth homer, a two-run, first-inning shot, and former closer Kyuji Fujikawa (1-0) threw six shutout innings on two hits to get the win as Hanshin defeated Yokohama.
Giants 4, Carp 3 (12)
At Mazda Stadium, Soichiro Tateoka’s 12th-inning RBI double lifted Yomiuri past Hiroshima after the Carp overcame a 3-0 deficit to tie it. Mizuki Tsuchida, the Giants’ seventh pitcher, worked around a two-out single to earn his first career save.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.