Sho Nakata’s home run streak ended against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on Wednesday. So the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters slugger went out and laid the foundation for a new one on Thursday.
Nakata homered in the fifth and seventh innings, Brandon Laird also went deep and seventh-year veteran Hirotoshi Masui threw the first shutout of his career as the Fighters routed the Eagles 8-0 on Thursday night at Tokyo Dome.
The win helped the Fighters keep the pressure on the Pacific League-leading Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Nippon Ham, trying to win its first pennant since 2012, trails the Hawks by a half-game in the standings after being behind by as many as 11 1/2 in July.
Nakata has been on a tear lately. The Fighters star had homered in three straight games before the Eagles kept him in the yard on Wednesday. He got loose against starter Manabu Mima in the fifth on Thursday, sending a first-pitch curveball into the stands beyond the wall in left field for a three-run homer.
“I was waiting on a slider, but he threw me a curve,” Nakata said. “I just tried to get a good swing on it.”
He saw four pitches in his next at-bat, but the result was the same as the slugger sent another ball into the seats for his 22nd home run of the year. Nakata has hit five home runs in his last five games.
“He’s swinging the bat well right now,” Laird said. “He’s confident. He’s having good at-bats, getting good pitches to hit, and just driving in runs.”
The Fighters slugger currently leads the Pacific League with 95 RBIs.
“I’m just trying to have solid at-bats” Nakata said. “Honestly, I haven’t really thought about the home runs and RBIs or batting average. Right now we’re a half-game behind SoftBank and doing all we can to try and keep pace and move past them.”
Laird entered the night tied with the Seibu Lions’ Ernesto Mejia for the PL lead with 30 home runs. Mejia went deep against the Hawks to move ahead earlier in the night. Laird didn’t waste much time catching up, latching onto a 148-kph fastball in the sixth, a solo blast, for his 31st of the season.
“The most important thing is the team is winning,” Laird said. “I feel like every day he hits one, I hit one, or if I hit one, he hits one. It’s going to be fun until the end of the season.”
Kensuke Kondo drove in the first run of the game with an RBI single in the fifth. Daiki Asama, who entered the game as a defensive replacement, knocked in a pair with a double in the eighth.
The run support helped make a winner out of closer-turned-starter Masui, but the right-hander did his fair share of the work. Masui allowed eight hits, struck out two and walked one. He improved to 5-3 (with 10 saves) on the year and has won his last three starts.
The Eagles, trying to claw their way into contention for the third and final spot in the Pacific League Climax Series lost for just the third time in their last 10 games. Rakuten trails the third-place Chiba Lotte Marines by 7 1/2 games.
Mima (8-7) had a rough night, allowing six runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Hawks hammer Linos
Tokorozawa Saitama Pref. KYODO
Nao Higashihama (8-6) allowed two runs over 7-1/3 innings while Seiichi Uchikawa went 3-for-4 with two RBIs as the PL-leading Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks scored three runs off Seibu Lions starter Ken Togame (4-6) and six off reliever Hirotaka Koishi in a 9-2 win on Thursday in the Pacific League.
Marines 6, Buffaloes 4
At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Chen Kuan-yu (1-0) held Orix to a run over 5-2/3 innings and former big leaguer Tadahito Iguchi hit a three-run homer to double the lead for Chiba Lotte.
Carp 6, BayStars 5 (10)
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Brad Eldred blasted a game-tying two-run homer in the fifth and Yoshihiro Maru hit a bases-loaded, walk-off single in the 10th off Yokohama reliever Kenjiro Tanaka (3-1) as CL-leading Hiroshima’s magic number shrunk to nine.