Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Toru Murata tosses eight strong innings as Fighters complete sweep of Eagles

Kyodo

Former Cleveland Indian Toru Murata pitched eight innings Thursday afternoon as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters topped the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 3-1 and swept their three-game series.

The 32-year-old right-hander, a former No. 1 draft pick of the Yomiuri Giants, won his season debut after giving up one run on four hits, while striking out three.

“The only thing on my mind while I was pitching was that I wanted to win,” Murata said. “I’m grateful to the fielders for doing a great job on defense.”

The victory was just Murata’s second in Nippon Professional Baseball. He went 1-2 for the Fighters in 2017 after returning from the United States, where he spent six years in the Indians system.

“I’m happier about winning this game together as a team,” he said. “I want to do my best to contribute to the team so we can win the championship.”

Murata dodged a bullet in the first, when he walked the leadoff hitter and the inning ended on an out at the plate, but Rakuten took the lead in the bottom of the third on Louis Okoye’s solo home run.

The Fighters took the lead on fifth-inning RBI singles by Kensuke Kondo and Sho Nakata, prompting Eagles manager Masataka Nashida to replace 19-year-old starting pitcher Shoma Fujihira.

The visitors extended the lead on Oswaldo Arcia’s seventh-inning RBI single.

Fujihira picked up the loss after giving up two hits, walking six, hitting a batter and striking out five.

Marines 9, Buffaloes 5

At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Daichi Suzuki went 4-for-5 with a home run, scored twice and drove in three runs, while Hideaki Wakui allowed two runs in 5-1/3 innings in Chiba Lotte’s win over Orix.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Giants 3, Dragons 2

At Nagoya Dome, Yomiuri spoiled Daisuke Matsuzaka’s Chunichi and Central League debut.

The 37-year-old Matsuzaka, who has been plagued with injuries since he was lured back to Japan ahead of the 2015 season, allowed three runs — two earned — in five innings. The right-hander allowed eight hits and walked three, while striking out five.

With the game tied 1-1 in the third inning, the Giants’ Naoki Yoshikawa doubled on a pop up that shortstop Yota Kyoda and center fielder Yohei Oshima each expected the other to catch. An opposite-field flare single and a walk loaded the bases, and Yoshikawa scored on a double play. A throwing error by Kyoda brought in another run.

“I failed to put away the leadoff hitters today, and that forced my pitch count up,” Matsuzaka said. “I need to correct that.”

The game reunited both of Japan’s 1999 rookies of the year, Matsuzaka and another former Boston Red Sox pitcher, reliever Koji Uehara.

Uehara, who went 20-4 as a Giants rookie, re-signed with Yomiuri in March. He pitched a scoreless seventh inning, before turning it over to Scott Mathieson, and eventually closer Arquimedes Caminero, who closed it out.

Yomiuri opened the scoring in the first on a leadoff infield single, a walk and one-out single by former Dragon Alex Guerrero. With his back to the wall, however, Matsuzaka struck out the last two batters he faced in the inning and his teammates tied it in the home half.

An infield single and a double by Zoilo Almonte made it 1-1 with the only run Chunichi could manage against Kan Otake. The right-hander allowed four hits and a walk, while striking out one in five innings.

“I was only thinking of what I had to do, and nothing else,” Otake said when asked if he was conscious of his matchup with Matsuzaka.

The Dragons mounted a threat in the sixth with four straight one-out singles against Hirokazu Sawamura but could only manage one run before the right-hander induced a double play.

Tigers 2, BayStars 0

At Yokohama Stadium, Randy Messenger (2-0) allowed three hits and no walks, while striking out 11 over eight innings as Hanshin defeated Katsuki Azuma, the top draft pick last autumn.

The rookie lefty struck out nine but allowed a run on six hits and a walk over six innings.

Carp 5, Swallows 4

At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Yoshihiro Maru hit a three-run, fifth-inning homer off veteran right-hander Shohei Tateyama, and Ryosuke Kikuchi’s solo homer in the ninth produced a valuable insurance run as Hiroshima edged Tokyo Yakult.