Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Eagles prevail in duel between Pacific League's top teams

Kyodo

Takahiro Norimoto won a scintillating pitchers’ duel with Rick van den Hurk, before the Pacific League-leading Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles added on a few more runs against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ bullpen during a 4-1 win on Wednesday.

Norimoto (10-2) allowed one run over eight innings, while striking out 11. He gave up five hits and walked three. Van den Hurk (8-5), who was burned on a fluke RBI single, gave up two runs on five hits and two walks over 6⅔ strong innings.

The victory, before 27,209 at Kobo Park Miyagi, moved the Eagles 2½ games clear of the Hawks in the PL standings.

With neither pitcher showing any sign of breaking, the Eagles lucked into a seventh-inning run. Kazuo Matsui drew a two-out walk and scored from first when center fielder Yuki Yanagita failed to make a sliding catch on Toshiaki Imae’s fly ball in shallow center. The ball bounced out of Yanagita’s glove and away from him, allowing the 41-year-old Matsui to sprint home.

“It was pretty ugly, but looking back on it now, I think it was beautiful,” Imae said. “I had my eye on the ball and Matsui still has good wheels so I thought he’d score.”

Norimoto took a while to find his rhythm. A pair of inning-ending double plays helped him escape tight spots in the first and third innings before the Hawks broke through in the fourth.

“I didn’t pitch well early and only was able to make it a close game because of the fielders behind me,” Norimoto said. “To allow just one run in a game like this is huge. I got sorted out, got some good advice from pitching coach (Tsuyoshi) Yoda and made some adjustments.”

A leadoff single by Yanagita and a one-out Akira Nakamura double put the visitors in front. But van den Hurk surrendered a leadoff homer in the bottom of the inning to Zelous Wheeler.

The 198-cm Dutchman retired the next 11 batters before losing Matsui on six pitches. When Imae miss-hit a fat 3-2 pitch, it looked like van den Hurk was out of the inning. Yanagita came tearing in but couldn’t quite make the play. Van den Hurk walked the next batter before being pulled after walking two, striking out four and giving up five hits.

Yuito Mori, the Hawks’ third pitcher, entered with one out in the eighth and surrendered Japhet Amador’s fifth home run in three games. A walk and a single to Ginji Akaminai set up Luis Cruz, who singled in the Eagles’ fourth run after joining the club earlier in the day from the Yomiuri Giants.

Norimoto struck out the Hawks in the eighth before leaving the game and setup man Hiroyuki Fukuyama worked a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his first save of the season.

Fighters 4, Marines 2

At Hokkaido’s Obihiro Stadium, Kenji Yano’s two-run, pinch-hit single helped Hokkaido Nippon Ham erase a seventh-inning deficit and rally for a win over Chiba Lotte.

Naoyuki Uwasawa (3-3) allowed four hits, including a pair of solo home runs, while striking out four and walking a batter in his seven innings on the mound.

“I’m grateful to the position players for getting me those runs and making this win possible,” Uwasawa said.

The game was tied 1-1 in the seventh when Shogo Nakamura homered for the visitors.

The Fighters bounced back in the bottom of the inning with the help of an error that put the leadoff man on. A Taishi Ota double set the table, and Yano, who has struggled off the bench this season, poked a ball between third and short.

“From the bench, I’ve been watching Uwasawa and he’s been so workmanlike recently. I wanted to do my part to help him out,” said Yano. “I hit it off the end of the bat, but perhaps it was willpower that got it through the infield.”

In the eighth inning, Shohei Otani put an exclamation mark on the Fighters’ 1,000th win since moving to Hokkaido in 2004. The injury-plagued slugging ace leaned into a lazy hanging slider and drove it out of cozy Obihiro Stadium for his first home run since April 5.

Lions 6, Buffaloes 2

At Tokorozawa’s MetLife Dome, Takeya Nakamura’s two-run, first-inning homer tied it for Seibu and his fifth-inning single brought in an insurance run in a win over Orix.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Swallows 11, 10 inning

At Jingu Stadium, Shoitsu Omatsu hit his second pinch-hit sayonara homer of the season, lifting Tokyo Yakult a record-tying win over Chunichi.

The Swallows equaled an NPB record by coming back to win after trailing by 10 runs.

Carp 7, Giants 2

At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Daichi Osera (7-0) allowed a run over seven innings, and Hiroshima bombarded Yomiuri with home runs from Seiya Suzuki, Yoshihiro Maru and Brad Eldred.

BayStars 6, Tigers 5

At Nishinomiya’s Koshien Stadium, Joe Wieland (5-2) allowed three runs in 6⅓ innings, while Takayuki Kajitani and No. 9 hitter Toshihiko Kuramoto each drove in two runs as Yokohama held off Hanshin.