SENDAI – Kazuo Matsui delivered off the bench for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, singling in the tying run in the ninth inning, and finishing the game at shortstop in a 4-4, 12-inning tie on Monday night.
On a rare Monday night game, a good crowd of 24,931 at Kobo Park Miyagi saw their Pacific League-leading Eagles twice come back from two-run deficits with ageless veteran Kazuo Matsui taking center stage at the end.
Buffaloes closer Yoshihisa Hirano allowed back-to-back singles to open the ninth, and twice came within one strike of earning his 16th save. With two outs and runners on the corners, Kazuya Fujita swung at a bouncing forkball that eluded catcher Kenya Wakatsuki. Fujita easily reached first as Zelous Wheeler scored.
Hirano then got ahead of pinch hitter Matsui 1-2. But the 41-year-old switch hitter drove a fastball to left for an opposite-field single and Takero Okajima just beat the throw home to score from second.
Matsui, who had spent most of his career at shortstop, returned to his old position in the top of the 10th for the first time since Aug. 14, 2014. He started an easy, inning-ending double play in the 11th, earning a huge welcome upon his return to the Eagles dugout.
The game started as a pitchers’ duel between Orix’s Brandon Dickson and Rakuten star Takahiro Norimoto, but the Eagles right-hander slipped up first. Norimoto hung a forkball to Takahiro Okada with one out and a man on to give the Buffaloes a 2-0, fourth-inning lead. All four of the Eagles runs were unearned.
The Eagles wasted a three-hit, bottom of the fourth, when Carlos Peguero was picked off second for the first out of the inning and Ginji Akaminai was thrown out at home for the final out. The hosts, however, tied it in the sixth with two errors, one that allowed a runner to reach and another that brought home a run with two outs.
Unfortunately, Norimoto couldn’t hold the fort, allowing two runs to score in the top of the seventh. He allowed four runs on nine hits over eight innings. Norimoto struck out nine without issuing a walk.
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