FUKUOKA – Ace pitcher Shohei Otani gave himself a first-inning lead with a leadoff homer and made it stand up for eight innings on Sunday to lead the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to their 10th straight victory, a 2-0 win over the Pacific League champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
Otani (8-4) allowed five hits and two walks, while striking out 10 to win his seventh straight start. He has not allowed a run in his last 30 innings.
Batting in the leadoff spot, Otani hit the game’s first pitch from Kenichi Nakata (3-2) well over the wall in right-center for his 10th homer of the season and his first since May 31. It was Otani’s first career homer in a game that he also pitched.
“I was surprised to see that (I was batting first) because I had almost never batted leadoff before,” said Otani, who made short work of a slider that broke into the center of the zone and drove it 15 rows back in the cheap seats. “I was expecting a fastball, but I just happened to make a good contact. I took my time around the bases, because I didn’t want to wear myself out.”
The hosts, who were shut out for just the second time this season the night before, threatened in the first with a pair of two-out singles, and had two on in the third with one out, but were unable to get a run across.
“We got great starts in this series form (Hirotoshi) Takanashi, and (Kohei) Arihara,” Otani said. “I was just trying to continue what they started.”
Trailing 1-0 in the sixth, the Hawks pitched too carefully to Otani with a man on first base, walking him on four pitches, and it proved costly. With Otani on third and the bases loaded, Nakata hit a batter to force in a run.
The Fighters appeared to have added another run in the eighth, on a one-out single to center by Sho Nakata. However, center fielder Yuki Yanagita, last year’s PL MVP, threw a strike to the plate and veteran catcher Toru Hosokawa made a good tag to prevent a run.
After throwing 120 pitches over eight innings, Otani batted with two outs in the ninth and a runner on second, but was intentionally walked.
Right-hander Chris Martin, who has taken over the closer’s duties for the Fighters, struck out the heart of the Hawks’ order in the ninth to record his eighth save.
Nakata allowed two runs, one earned, on a hit, three walks and a hit batsman in 6⅓ innings, striking out five.
Buffaloes 4, Marines 3
At QVC Marine Field, Orix overturned a three-run deficit as Yoshio Itoi tied the game with an RBI double in the seventh before Satoshi Sonobe, making his first-team debut, plated the go-ahead run with a two-out single.
Brandon Dickson (6-6) allowed three runs in six innings for the Buffaloes, while Chiba Lotte dropped to third for the first time since April 9.
Lions 4, Eagles 3
At Kobo Stadium Miyagi, Takeya Nakamura had an RBI single in a three-run fifth as Seibu tied it and again in the ninth off Tohoku Rakuten reliever Kam Mickolio (2-1) for the go-ahead run as the Lions snapped six-game skid.
Carp 13, BayStars 6
At Yokohama Stadium, league-leading Hiroshima stung Yokohama for 17 hits and Takahiro Arai went 4-for-5 with five RBIs, starting off with a three-run homer in the first off Guillermo Moscoso (4-7).
Ko Shimozuru blasted a two-run, pinch-hit home run in the sixth and a solo shot in the eighth for the Carp, while Yokohama’s Yoshitomo Tsutsugo also went deep twice.
Dragons 8, Tigers 3
At Nagoya Dome, Nobumasa Fukuda hit a third-inning grand slam off Hanshin’s Yuta Iwasada (4-6), Dayan Viciedo drove in three runs for Chunichi, and Kazuki Yoshimi (4-2) allowed three runs over five innings to earn the win.
Swallows 6, Giants 3
At Komachi Stadium, Tetsuto Yamada’s 28th home run, a two-run shot in the seventh inning lifted Tokyo Yakult to a two-game series sweep of Yomiuri.