SAPPORO – Yusei Kikuchi delivered another strong opening day start and this time got a win for his trouble as the Seibu Lions defeated the defending champion Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 8-1 on Friday evening.
Kikuchi allowed a run on four hits and two walks over seven innings. In front of 41,138 at Sapporo Dome, the lefty struck out four, but earned a win behind a strong night from the middle of his team’s batting lineup and some sharp fielding.
“I’m relieved,” said the 25-year-old Kikuchi, who struck out 12 a year ago to open the Lions’ 2016 season but did not figure in the decision.
“The biggest thing was the team winning. I wanted to go as many innings as I could and allow as few runs as possible. The fielders made a lot of good plays and that made it ours to win.”
Seibu opened the scoring in the second. Cleanup hitter Takeya Nakamura led off with a walk and Takumi Kuriyama doubled him to third. With one out and the infield in, Nakamura beat the tag at home and scored on a squibber to short. Kuriyama then came home on Ginjiro Sumitani’s high-bouncing groundout.
The Fighters’ Shohei Otani was denied an RBI double in the third, when he came up with two outs and Haruki Nishikawa at first. Right fielder Fumikazu Kimura took the ricochet off the wall and second baseman Hideto Asamura made a perfect relay throw home to Sumitani, whose tag on Nishikawa ended the inning.
The Fighters cut the deficit in half in the fifth on a homer by catcher Tomoya Ichikawa, but the Lions knocked starter Kohei Arihara out of the game in a four-run sixth.
Back-to-back doubles by Asamura and Nakamura restored the two-run lead. A Kuriyama single put runners on the corners. After an RBI grounder and a walk, second baseman Kensuke Tanaka and third baseman Brando Laird each committed a throwing error on the next play, bringing in a run and setting up a sacrifice fly by rookie Sosuke Genda.
Genda, a 24-year-old out of corporate ball, also flashed some leather at shortstop, diving to his right to rob Sho Nakata of a leadoff single in the fourth. It was the kind of defense new skipper Hatsuhiko Tsuji promised to deliver when he was hired last autumn.
“That play was something,” Kikuchi said. “It helped me really get on a roll.
“I wanted to earn the winning ball for the manager in his first game. And going forward, I want to earn more for him.”
Arihara, getting the opening day start with Otani unable to pitch, was charged with six runs — four earned — in 5⅔ innings. The right-hander surrendered six hits, struck out four and walked two.
Asamura singled in the seventh and scored on Kuriyama’s second double, giving the fourth and the captain launched a solo homer in the ninth for his fourth hit of the game.
Hawks 3, Marines 1
At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, Fukuoka’s SoftBank’s Yuichi Honda hit a tiebreaking RBI single in the eighth off Takahiro Matsunaga after Chiba Lotte starter Hideaki Wakui (0-1) left the mound with a runner on base.
Hawks starter Tsuyoshi Wada (1-0) allowed a run over eight innings to earn the win.
Eagles 6, Buffaloes 4 (11)
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Carlos Peguero’s two-run, 11th-inning home run broke a 4-4 tie, and Tohoku Rakuten’s Frank Herrmann survived a two-on, one-out jam in the bottom of the inning to hold off Orix.
Swallows 9 BayStars 2
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Yuhei Nakamura got the hosts on the board with an RBI single in the fourth off Yokohama’s Kenta Ishida (0-1), and hit a bases-loaded, two-run double in the seventh to finish 3-for-5.
Yakult ace Masanori Ishikawa (1-0) allowed two runs in six innings.
Tigers 10, Carp 6
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Hanshin free agent acquisition Yoshio Itoi opened his CL career by scoring three runs and driving in another three as the Tigers held off defending league champion Hiroshima.
Sawamura Award winner Kris Johnson (0-1) surrendered seven runs in 3⅔ innings.