SENDAI - With all of Nao Higashihama’s pitches working, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles simply didn’t have a chance in Thursday afternoon’s 5-1 defeat to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
Matched up against top veteran Takayuki Kishi, Higashihama put on a pitching clinic with flawless command of his breaking pitches and mixing those in with his fastball, cutter and changeup to keep the Eagles guessing.
Higashihama (10-3) allowed a run on five hits and a walk over 7-1/3 innings, while striking out two and getting one hitter after another to ground into an out at Kobo Park Miyagi.
With the victory, the Hawks to within 1-1/2 games of the Pacific League-leading Eagles.
“I was able to execute my pitches from the start and keep us in the game,” said Higashihama. “My teammates put runs on the board and that made everything easier.”
Kishi (8-4) cruised through the first three innings, but was on the hot seat in the fourth. Solid singles by Nobuhiro Matsuda and Yuki Yanagita put runners on the corners with no outs. A stolen base by Yanagita brought the infield all the way in and a sharp grounder by Akira Nakamura got past diving shortstop Luis Cruz for a two-run single.
Designated hitter Alfredo Despaigne, who struck out with a chance to drive in two runs in the fourth, made amends in the sixth.
The Cuban slugger doubled in Yanagita from first with one out. In the eighth, Despaigne singled in Kenta Imamiya from second with two outs, and Imamiya completed the scoreline in the ninth with an RBI single.
After five innings of nothing but frustration against Higashihama’s kitchen-sink assortment of pitches, a one-out walk and an infield single in the sixth gave Rakuten a ray of hope with red-hot slugger Japhet Amador at the plate.
But Amador, who’d hit five home runs in his previous three games, was tormented by Higashihama. The right-hander gave him nothing in the zone but big breaking pitches and got the frustrated Amador to ground into an easy double play.
Zelous Wheeler got the Eagles on the board in the seventh. Trailing 3-0, he doubled to open the inning and advanced around the bases with the help of two groundouts.
Kishi allowed four runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out seven. He hung in for 126 pitches, but with Higashihama dealing, help was nowhere to be found.
Lions 2, Buffaloes 0
At Tokorozawa’s MetLife Dome, Yusei Kikuchi (10-4) struck out 12, while allowing five hits in seven innings.
The lefty pitched out of a no-out, bases-loaded pinch in the fifth as Seibu handed Orix its eighth straight loss.
Giants 4, Carp 3
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, lefty Kazuto Taguchi (9-2) allowed three runs in seven innings, and Shinnosuke Abe brought Yomiuri from a run down with a two-run, fourth-inning double in a win over league-leading Hiroshima.
Swallows 11, Dragons 2
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Tokyo Yakult put 11 runs on the board for the second straight game against Chunichi.
Wladimir Balentien homered twice, giving him four in four games, and Hirofumi Yamanaka (1-4) went the distance for his first win since last August.
Tigers 10, BayStars 3
At Koshien Stadium, Masahiro Nakatani overcame a 2-0, fourth-inning deficit with his team-leading 11th home run, a three-run shot, and after a rain delay, Hanshin pounded out seven more runs in a rout of Yokohama.