Kohei Arihara might have won the game for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, but the drinks are on Brandon Laird.
Arihara pitched shutout ball into the seventh, Laird, Shohei Otani and Kensuke Tanaka hit home runs, and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters beat the Orix Buffaloes 4-0 on Tuesday night at Tokyo Dome.
While Otani was swinging his bat, Arihara (4-0), the team’s other young pitching star, was content to do his damage from the mound. Arihara struck out nine over 7 2/3 shutout innings. He allowed five hits, all singles, and walked one.
“Today was a really good game,” Arihara said. “We’ll take it day by day and do our best to try and keep it going”
Otani gave Arihara an early lead, crushing a 134-kph offering from Brandon Dickson, nearly sending the ball through the window of the camera well under the scoreboard in center field. The home run was Otani’s sixth of the season.
“I knew it (was a home run) when I hit it,” Otani said.
The 21-year old has homered in the last three games during which he’s had a plate appearance.
“I want to continue have good at-bats and go into my next one with a good impression,” Otani said.
Laird finished 1-for-3, including his team-leading 10th home run of the season. His homer, which hit the Kirin Beer sign above the seats in left field earned him a year’s supply of beer and $10,000.
“I think it’s pretty cool when they tell you if you hit the signs you get a prize like that,” Laird said. “To actually do it in a game was pretty cool.”
Laird said he’d put the money toward his new house in Arizona, but didn’t yet know what he’d do with the beer supply.
“Definitely not drink it,” he joked. “Maybe give some to the batting practice pitchers or whoever wants it.”
Tanaka, whose two-run shot in the third was his first of the year, had three hits in his four at-bats.
Arihara made good use of the run support, pitching without any pressure as he held the Buffaloes at bay.
“It made it easy to pitch because we scored early,” he said. “I’m really grateful to my teammates.”
Dickson (3-3) allowed three home runs and was charged with the loss after giving up four runs on five hits over six innings. He struck out nine and walked two. His night might’ve been worse if not for back-to-back strikeouts of Sho Nakata and Otani with the bases loaded in the fifth inning.
Slugger Tony Blanco made his season debut for Orix but finished 0-for-2 with a walk.
The Fighters’ first three hits of the night were home runs. Otani got things started with his blast in the second and Tanaka padded the lead with his two-run shot in the third. Laird made the score 4-0 with his solo drive in the fourth.
The Buffaloes rarely threatened, held to five hits by Arihara and relievers Naoki Miyanishi and Hirotoshi Takahashi.
Van den Hurk triumphs again
Dutch right-hander Rick van den Hurk on Tuesday became the first NPB pitcher to start his first-team career by winning his first 14 decisions.
The 30-year-old, who pitched in 50 major league games before moving to South Korea in 2013, allowed a run in eight innings to improve his ERA to 1.98. Van den Hurk struck out 10 without issuing a walk in the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ 2-1 Pacific League win over the Chiba Lotte Marines at Yafuoku Dome.
Van den Hurk, who went 9-0 last season, entered the game tied with two other pitchers. Kuo Tai-yuan, known as Taigen Kaku in Japan during his time with the Seibu Lions, and former Yomiuri Giants ace Tsuneo Horiuchi each won his first 13 career decisions.
“It’s something special,” van den Hurk said. “But a record like that, you don’t get by yourself. We do this all together, with my teammates, with our organization, with all the fans, with my awesome wife, with my team at home. It’s a combination, and I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart. It means a lot to me.”
Yuki Yanagita, last year’s league MVP, broke a scoreless tie in the sixth inning when he homered to the opposite field with a man on against Ayumu Ishikawa (2-2).
The Marines narrowed the gap in the eighth, when Katsuya Kakunaka singled, stole second and scored on former Hawk Tadahito Iguchi’s RBI double.
But SoftBank closer Dennis Sarfate retired the visitors in order in the ninth to record his 11th save.
“It was my first game at the dome this year in the regular season. It’s always special to pitch here. I am very happy that I could throw a lot of good quality strikes and keep the hitters off balance and we can score,” said van den Hurk, who was taken off the hook for the loss in his previous start.
“We have a great offense, and my mission is to go out there and give our team a chance to win. With the offense we have, if you keep it close, we’re going to come through. We’ve been doing that, so it’s been great to be a part of this team.”
Ishikawa allowed two runs on six hits and three walks over the distance, while striking out three as Lotte fell four games behind the first-place Hawks in the PL standings.
Since leaving the Korean Baseball Organization as that league’s ERA leader in 2014, van den Hurk’s only loss came last year with the Hawks’ Western League farm club, where he was 5-1 before establishing himself as one of the PL’s top starters.
Lions at Eagles — ppd.
Dragons 6, BayStars 3
At Yokohama Stadium, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo came back after missing nine games due to a muscle strain and hit a pair of home runs, but it was not enough as last-place Yokohama fell to league-leading Chunichi.
Dragons rookie Yu Sato (1-0) allowed a run in five innings to earn the win in his debut.
Carp 6, Swallows 3
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Wladimir Balentien hit his 10th homer, but a trio of homers from Yoshihiro Maru, Ryuhei Matsuyama and Seiya Suzuki helped Hiroshima sink Tokyo Yakult.
Giants at Tigers — ppd.