TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – Ernesto Mejia homered three times and drove in seven runs to push the Seibu Lions past the plucky Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 7-6 in the Pacific League on Sunday afternoon.
Mejia, who two seasons ago became the first player to lead the league in home runs after joining his team after opening day, walked in his first plate appearance before unleashing some serious power on the unsuspecting Eagles.
Although he has hit for average this season, entering the game batting .326, the 30-year-old first baseman was homerless until April 9 and now has eight in a span of 16 days.
“I put good swings on the ball, and was lucky to get good pitches when I was attacking the ball,” Mejia said. “I don’t know why I wasn’t hitting home runs, and I don’t know why I’m hitting them now.”
Although Mejia electrified the crowd of 26,845 at Seibu Prince Dome, the Lions were not in a good place early on after ace Takayuki Kishi left with an injury in the second inning.
Mejia opened the scoring with two outs in the fifth. Rakuten starter Yoshinao Kamata got to a 1-2 count by getting the big Venezuelan to flail at a couple of pitches out of the zone. Kamata then threw a lollipop curve which Mejia rocketed over the fence in center.
“I learned from those two (swinging strikes). I told myself not to swing again at those,” said Mejia.
“I was trying not to think too much. Just swing at a good pitch and try to hit it hard. And I was lucky. Seriously, I was thinking to hit a line drive, but the pitch was even better.”
Lions lefty Hirotaka Koishi was impressive in relief of Kishi, but allowed Rakuten to tie it in the fifth. After a one-out walk, Hiroaki Shimauchi lined a two-out pitch that fooled novice right fielder Ryo Sakata and sailed for an RBI triple.
But Mejia put Seibu in front minutes later. With two outs and a man on, Kamata tried to go inside with an 0-1 fastball but missed, and Mejia did not, drilling it over the fence to the right of the hitters’ background.
Taiwan right-hander C.C. Lee relieved Koishi with two on in the sixth, pitching out of a jam before he, too, left hurt, in the seventh. With one on and one out, right-hander Yosuke Okamoto came in, walking the next two batters to load the bases.
Ryo Hijirisawa singled in two runs, and after a walk reloaded the bases, Ginji Akaminai singled in two more off lefty Shota Takekuma (1-0). Zelous Wheeler completed the carnage by singling in the fifth run of the inning to make it 6-3.
But it was not enough.
With veteran catcher Motohiro Shima having left for a pinch hitter, Kamata and new batterymate Tadashi Ishimine came unglued and surrendered back-to-back singles.
Kodai Hamaya walked the only man he faced with one out, and right-hander Hiroyuki Fukuyama (0-2) was brought in to face Mejia, but it did no good.
Mejia locked into Fukuyama’s first pitch and sent it flying over the fence in left center. The slugger said he wasn’t trying any harder than usual to pick the team up in the absence of regular cleanup hitter Takeya Nakamura and the early departure of Kishi.
“I never change anything,” Mejia said. “I always try to kill the ball.”
Lions right-hander Tatsushi Masuda worked around a one-out single with three strikeouts to earn his fifth save.
Hawks 6, Fighters 5
At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, SoftBank’s Seiichi Uchikawa won it in the ninth with a walk-off solo homer after Yuya Hasegawa tied the game against Hokkaido Nippon Ham reliever Chris Martin.
Buffaloes 4, Marines 3
At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Yuki Nishi (2-3) repeatedly pitched out of trouble to allow just three runs over 6⅔ innings and Orix’s pen provided solid relief to finish off the win over Chiba Lotte.
Tigers 6, Carp 2
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, rookie Shun Takayama homered and drove in three runs in support of ace Atsushi Nomi (2-2), who allowed five hits over the distance to get the win. Hiroshima first baseman Takahiro Arai had two hits, leaving him just one shy of 2,000 for his career.
Giants 3, BayStars 0
At Tokyo Dome, lefty Nobutaka Imamura (1-0) worked 5⅔ innings and four relievers completed the shutout as Yomiuri bounced back from a loss to Yokohama.
Dragons 5, Swallows 3
At Nagoya Dome, a day after blowing a late lead in a loss to Tokyo Yakult, Chunichi overcame a two-run deficit in the eighth on a Dayan Viciedo grand slam.
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