SENDAI – The battle for first place got messy in the Pacific League on Saturday, when Kenta Imamiya drove in three runs to push the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks to a 10-9 win over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Before 26,383 at Kobo Park Miyagi, Imamiya came up with his team trailing 4-3 and Eagles starter Manabu Mima starting to get hit hard. With no outs and runners on second and third in the fifth inning, he singled off Mima’s first pitch to put SoftBank in front for good in the 4-hour, 26-minute game.
“It was a long game, so I’m glad we won,” said Imamiya, whose team closed to within a half-game of the league-leading Eagles.
“I was looking to go from the first pitch, and something good happened.”
Mima (7-2), who has been having a career year, blew a 4-2 lead in that nightmarish seven-run fifth inning, capped by an Alfredo Despaigne grand slam. But instead of a collapse, the outburst only signaled “game on!” as Rakuten rallied for four runs against three Hawks relievers to pull within a run.
Imamiya hit his fifth home run of the season in the sixth inning off Mima, a solo shot that made it a 10-8 game. But Japhet Amador canceled that score out in the bottom of the seventh with a homer off Yuito Mori.
Hawks closer Dennis Sarfate had to enter with one out in the eighth to put out a fire after Takero Okajima and Zelous Wheeler opened the inning with back-to-back hits. But Okajima was caught stealing at third, trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt, and Toshiaki Imae, who missed a three-run homer by a few meters, struck out to end the inning.
It was the first time Sarfate, who owns the Pacific League record for saves in a season with 43, hadn’t pitched in more than one inning since Aug. 29, 2015.
Former New York Met Ryota Igarashi (6-0) earned the win, pitching 1-2/3 innings in relief.
Kodai Senga started for the Hawks but allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four innings. He blew a two-run lead in the third, when Carlos Peguero doubled in two and Wheeler homered with a man on.
After Takuya Kai’s leadoff double in the top of the fifth, things got ugly quickly for Mima. He hung a 1-0 slider that Seiji Uebayashi lined for a single, and on a sharp grounder, the Eagles infield caught Kai between second and third but was distracted by Uebayashi heading to third.
“That was my mental error. You have to get one out,” said catcher Motohiro Shima, who tried to retire both Uebayashi and Kai.
“Both teams gave away chances in that inning,” Rakuten manager Masataka Nashida said. “If you pitch enough (as Mima has) this kind of thing is going to happen now and then.”
Marines 7, Fighters 3
At Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, Chiba Lotte’s Shohei Kato homered and drove in four runs to back Yuki Karakawa (3-7), who didn’t allow a run until three came across in the seventh in a win over Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
Buffaloes 4, Lions 2
At Tokorozawa’s MetLife Dome, Orix’s Koji Oshiro and Shunta Gondo each drove in two second-inning runs, and lefty Takahiro Matsuba (3-5) worked seven innings to get the win over Seibu.
Tigers 3, Swallows 1
At Koshien Stadium, Yusuke Oyama, Hanshin’s top draft pick last autumn, had his first pro hit and home run, a three-run shot, and lefty Atsushi Nomi (3-3) allowed a run over six innings to beat Tokyo Yakult and snap the Tigers’ eight-game losing streak.
Carp 8, Dragons 1
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Brad Eldred became the second Hiroshima player to hit three home runs in a game this season after Yoshihiro Maru did it on June 16, and Kazuki Yabuta (7-1) allowed a run over six innings in a win over Chunichi.
BayStars 6, Giants 4
At Tokyo Dome, Yokohama’s Masayuki Kuwahara opened the game with a home run and finished it with another blast, belting a come-from-behind grand slam in the top of the ninth to sink Yomiuri and return the BayStars over .500 for the first time this year.
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