Going into Friday night, Nick Martinez had never thrown a full nine innings or earned an NPB victory.
Check, and check.
Martinez went the distance, Brandon Laird backed him up with a home run and the suddenly streaking Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters survived an eighth-inning rally to beat the Chiba Lotte Marines 3-2 in front of a crowd of 23,202 at Tokyo Dome.
“It was my first nine-inning complete game, in my whole life,” Martinez said. “I’ve thrown a seven-inning complete game. First time throwing nine.”
Martinez had thrown 104 pitches through eight innings and only had a one-run lead. When pitching coach Masato Yoshii asked about his condition, the 27-year-old replied he “felt great.” Next came his catcher, veteran Shinya Tsuruoka.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Let’s finish it,’ ” Martinez said. “I was ready to finish it.”
Martinez allowed a hit to Seiya Inoue in the ninth but nothing else as he earned his first win in Japan.
“It’s very special,” Martinez said. “It’s my first win in Japan. It means a lot that I was able to go the whole game and get the win. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and everyone in the clubhouse, with our preparation, and our defense and offense, the way they performed today.”
Laird was among the offensive stars for Nippon Ham, as always seems to be the case at Tokyo Dome.
“Tokyo Dome daisuki (I love Tokyo Dome),” Laird said during the hero interview.
He’s got good reason to feel that way. Laird is hitting .338 with 12 home runs in his last 19 games at the Big Egg. On Friday, he went deep off Mike Bolsinger to get the Fighters on the board in the second inning.
“I was just looking for a pitch to hit,” Laird said. “I was just trying to have good at-bats and get Nick some runs so he could settle in, and he did a great job.”
Sho Nakata and Oswaldo Arcia also recorded RBIs for the Fighters. Designated hitter Kensuke Kondo doubled in his first two at-bats to extend his streak of reaching base to nine consecutive plate appearances. The streak was snapped when he struck out in the fifth and he finished 2-for-4.
Martinez allowed four hits, struck out four and walked one. While he didn’t seem to have much trouble early, the Marines made a lot of fly ball outs, which he wanted to cut down.
“I personally knew if I kept on giving up fly balls, there was a higher chance of giving up home runs,” he said. “So I really focused on keeping the ball down.”
Lotte’s first four outs came on fly balls before Martinez settled in.
“I’m not normally a fly-ball pitcher,” Martinez said. “So whenever they got the ball in the air, (those pitches) were probably just not well executed.”
Bolsinger (1-1) took the loss for the Marines. Bolsinger, who picked up his first NPB win last week, allowed three runs on eight hits. He struck out five and walked two batters in six innings.
Lee Tu-hsuan drove in both Lotte runs with an eighth-inning double.
After being swept by the Seibu Lions to open the season, the Fighters have won four straight.
“Anytime you can get on a winning streak it feels good,” Laird said. “It’s fun and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Laird put the night’s first run on the board, leading off the second by connecting on a slider Bolsinger left up for his second home run of the year.
Kondo set the table for Nippon Ham with a one-out double in the third, and Nakata drove him home with a double off the wall in left. Laird sent Nakata to third with a single, and Arcia hit into a fielder’s choice that allowed Nakata to score Nippon Ham’s third run of the night.
The Marines’ Tsuyoshi Sugano drew a one-out walk in the top of the eighth and Kengo Ota fumbled what might’ve been a double-play ball hit by Kazuya Fukuura to leave Lotte with runners on first and second. Martinez retired Tatsuhiro Tamura, but Lee made the Fighters pay for the error with a pinch-hit two-run double.
Martinez retired Takashi Ogino to end the frame and closed out the game in the ninth.
Lions still unbeaten
Tokorozawa, Saitama Pref. – Yusei Kikuchi allowed a run in eight innings to earn the win for the Seibu Lions, who remained undefeated in the Pacific League this year with a 5-1 victory over the Orix Buffaloes on Friday.
The Lions improved to 6-0 behind the lefty, who allowed two hits and three walks. Kikuchi (2-0), who hopes to move to the major leagues next season, struck out six.
“I was able to keep making tough pitches, and the guys grinded it out behind me and made some great plays, too,” Kikuchi said. “We have a powerful offense and the starting pitchers are doing our best to take advantage of that by executing as well as we can.”
Seibu captain Hideto Asamura broke a scoreless deadlock in the fourth inning. The right-handed hitter slammed a slider from Yuki Nishi (0-2) that hung up over the plate and drove it out to right.
“Right now our total balance is quite good,” Asamura said. “The starting pitchers are doing well, and the batters are scoring early.
“It’s still early, but we want to get off to as good a start as possible.”
The Buffaloes tied it in the fifth, on Eiichi Koyano’s leadoff walk, a double by Chris Marrero and a groundout, but the Lions regained the lead in the home half.
Sosuke Genda, last year’s PL rookie of the year, tripled past Orix left fielder Takahiro Okada to score Shogo Akiyama and restore the lead. Seibu then pulled away thanks to right fielder Shuta Tonosaki.
With Koyano on first after a seventh-inning leadoff single, Marrero hammered a flat 150 kph fastball to the wall in right. It looked like it would come off the wall for an RBI double, but Tonosaki grabbed it just before slamming into the outfield wall. A double play ended the inning, and Tonosaki scored an insurance run in the bottom of the inning.
He led off with a drive over the head of Buffaloes right fielder Masataka Yoshida for a triple. Tonosaki scored when Ginji Sumitani greeted new reliever Yuta Kuroki with a single.
“The difference in today’s game was the defense,” said Orix manager Junichi Fukura.
Asamura doubled to open the eighth for the Lions and scored on Hotaka Yamakawa’s third home run of the season.
Eagles 7, Hawks 2
At Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, Tohoku Rakuten right-hander Takahiro Norimoto (1-0) allowed two runs in eight innings, as Fukuoka SoftBank’s Kodai Senga (0-1) was hammered for six runs in 3-2/3 innings.
Swallows 6, Giants 0
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, after four hitless innings, Tokyo Yakult’s David Buchanan (2-0) pitched out of a couple of jams to last eight innings, and the Swallows roughed up Tomoyuki Sugano (0-2).
The Yomiuri ace allowed five runs in six innings.
Carp 7, BayStars 3
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Yusuke Nomura (2-0) allowed three runs in eight innings and squeezed in the tying run to earn the win over Yokohama.
Dragons 3, Tigers 2
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, lefty Shinnosuke Ogasawara (1-1) overcame a two-run, first-inning home run to Yoshio Itoi and five walks to pitch seven innings and earn the victory as Chunichi rallied to beat Hanshin.