Raul Valdes never blinked.
Locked in a pitcher’s duel against a player considered by many to be no worse than one of the best two or three pitchers in Japan, Valdes just methodically racked up outs.
By the time it was over, he’d racked up a win as well.
Valdes threw eight innings of shutout ball, Nobumasa Fukuda drove in the only run, and relievers Shinji Tajima and Hitoki Iwase made it hold up in the ninth inning as the Chunichi Dragons earned a 1-0 win over the Yomiuri Giants on Friday night at Tokyo Dome.
“I thought it would be a good game from the beginning because I was facing the other team’s ace,” Valdes said.
It was a game in which neither starter gave up much, and one where Valdes was just a little bit better than Tomoyuki Sugano.
“He almost always gives us a quality start,” said Dragons manger Shigekazu Mori.
The Dragons won their third straight game and snapped the Giants’ three-game winning streak. The contest was the first for both teams since the end of interleague play earlier this week.
Valdes (4-4) limited the Giants to two singles and a double. He struck out six and walked three. Tajima recorded the first two outs of the ninth, though he allowed two runners in the process. Mori then turned to Iwase, as the Giants called on pinch hitter Yoshiyuki Kamei, who hit a pinch-hit three-run homer in his last game.
Japanese baseball’s all-time saves leader retired Kamei to end the contest and record his first save since the 2014 season, extending his record total to 403.
The Dragons only needed one run to get the job done, and it came in the fourth inning, when Fukuda singled in Masahiko Morino, who led off the frame with a double.
Sugano (7-3) went nearly pitch-for-pitch with Valdes in defeat, allowing just a single run on five hits over eight innings. He struck out five and walked a pair.
Valdes ended interleague play on a high note (allowing one run over 14 innings in wins over the Orix Buffaloes and Seibu Lions) and kept the good times rolling to record his third straight victory.
“I wasn’t thinking about that,” Valdes said. “I was trying not to think too much about anything. I’ll now make some adjustments so that I can pitch well in my next outing.”
The most tense moments of his gem came with runners on the corners (and later second and third after a stolen base) and Giants slugger Casey McGehee and Daikan Yoh due up with one out in the sixth. McGehee swung through a 3-2 changeup and Yoh popped up in foul territory as Valdes protected his slim 1-0 lead.
“McGehee is a good batter, and I’m glad I could get a strikeout,” Valdes said.
The left-hander also wasn’t fazed by the Giants fielding an all-righty lineup for the first time in 23 years.
“I just focused on the batter in front of me,” Valdez said. “I just wanted to make sure I pitched with control.”
There wasn’t much offense on either side. Morino had the only multi-hit night for his club, finishing 2-for-4, and Hisayoshi Chono, who nearly started a rally with a double in the sixth, did the same for the Giants with a 2-for-3 night.
The teams will meet in the second game of a three-game set on Saturday night at Tokyo Dome. Chunichi’s Shinnosuke Ogasawara (3-8) will get the ball as the Dragons try for a fourth straight win, with Miles Mikolas (6-3) set to start on the other side.
Carp whip Tigers
Hiroshima –Yoshihiro Maru and Brad Eldred both went deep before Ryosuke Kikuchi, who went 4-for-5, slugged a grand slam in the eight-run fifth as the Hiroshima hammered out 17 hits in a 13-3 victory over the Hanshin Tigers on Friday night in the Central League.
Randy Messenger (7-3) allowed five runs in four innings for his shortest outing this season.
Swallows 8, BayStars 7 (10)
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Tokyo Yakult’s Shinichi Takeuchi delivered a sayonara single in the 10th off Yokohama’s Shingo Hirata (0-1) after the BayStars scored two runs to tie the game in the ninth.
Fighters 7, Eagles 3
At Sapporo Dome, Brandon Laird’s two-run double brought Hokkaido Nippon Ham from behind in the fifth before Sho Nakata hit his second two-run shot of the day in the seventh as the Fighters defeated Tohoku Rakuten.
Hawks 10, Lions 0
At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, Yuki Yanagita homered in three straight at-bats for six runs off Seibu starter Yusei Kikuchi (7-3) and Nao Higashihama (7-2) hurled his first shutout in four years for Fukuoka SoftBank.
Marines 9, Buffaloes 3
At Kobe’s Hotto Motto Field, Lotte snapped its five-game losing skid after Ryo Miki broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh off Orix starter Taisuke Yamaoka (2-5).
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5