Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Yuki Yanagita bangs out three hits to propel Hawks past Marines on windswept afternoon

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The wind never let up as the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Chiba Lotte Marines played at Zozo Marine Stadium.

Neither did Yuki Yanagita.

Yanagita homered into the wind in the first inning and connected on a tiebreaking two-run triple in the seventh as the defending Pacific League champion Hawks rallied for a 5-3 victory over the Chiba Lotte Marines in front of a crowd of 30,030 on Thursday afternoon.

“We were able to pull it out,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said. “I think the team’s balance is getting better.”

The Hawks entered the seventh trailing 3-1, but a pinch-hit single by Tomoki Takata and a walk drawn by pinch hitter Shuhei Fukuda set the table for the top of the order. Seiji Uebayashi drove in one run with a single and Kenta Imamiya tied the score with an RBI single of his own.

“That was a really important inning,” Kudo said. “We were able to put some runners on early and our Nos. 1 and 2 batters really came through.”

Yanagita cleared the bases with his triple to put SoftBank ahead 5-3.

The Marines managed to get the tying run to the plate with one out in the ninth, but a double play ended the rally and the game.

A strong wind was a constant presence throughout the game, blowing as fast as 17 meters per second at one point.

“The wind was pretty strong today,” Kudo said. “It was a pretty tough game and it wasn’t easy to maintain our focus.”

The wind wreaked havoc with the Hawks’ fielding practice before the game, and every fly ball was an adventure during the contest. Early on, Marines first baseman Seiya Inoue settled under a popup, only to be sent racing to his left as the wind carried the ball further into foul territory. The wind caused him to miss another ball later in the game, resulting in hefty Hawks slugger Alfredo Despaigne ending up on second on a ball that barely left the infield.

Yanagita challenged it head-on in the first inning, homering to straightaway center into a wind blowing in at 14 meters per second for his seventh homer of the season.

“I was able to put a good swing on it,” Yanagita said. “It was a good at-bat.”

The SoftBank outfielder also had a single in addition to his triple and finished with three RBIs. He was a double shy of hitting for the cycle for the second time this season, which would’ve been a first in NPB history.

Yanagita has been one of the hottest players in the Pacific League to start the season. He’s currently hitting .367 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs, placing third in the league in all three categories. He’s also sixth with seven stolen bases.

“His condition is really good right now,” Kudo said. “He’s really locked in when he’s in the batter’s box.”

Uebayashi and Imamiya drove in the other two runs, as the Hawks completed a sweep of the Marines on the road.

The run support helped starter Shuta Ishikawa improve to 4-1 on the year.

“I’m glad I could help him get this win,” Yanagita said. “He’s always doing his best, so I felt like I had to do something today.”

Ishikawa lasted six innings, allowing three runs on four hits. He struck out three and walked five.

“Both my rhythm and tempo were bad today, but I just tried to give it my all,” Ishikawa said. “I gave up a lot of walks and I’m just grateful to everyone for the way they helped me with their fielding and for giving me some run support.”

Closer Yuito Mori pitched around an error that put a runner on second in the ninth to earn his fifth save of the season.

Neither of the players chasing the 2,000-hit mark gained any ground during the game. The Hawks Seiichi Uchikawa, who is two away, finished 0-for-4. Lotte’s Kazuya Fukuura was 0-for-2 and remained stuck at 1,975.

Lotte rookie Tsuyoshi Sugano connected on the first home run of his career, a two-run shot in the second and Seiya Inoue also drove in the other run for the home team with a single in the sixth.

Hideaki Wakui was tagged with the loss after allowing five runs on seven hits over 6 1/3 innings. Wakui (2-3) struck out six and walked three.

Lions blank Buffaloes

Osaka KYODO

Ken Togame and two relievers combined on a four-hit shutout as the Seibu Lions stomped the Orix Buffaloes 8-0 in the Pacific League on Thursday to salvage the final game of their three-game series.

Togame (2-3) gave up two hits and two walks, while striking out seven in seven innings at Kyocera Dome. The sidearmer surrendered a leadoff single in the first, but didn’t allow another base runner until there were two outs in the eighth and he held a 5-0 lead.

Pin-pointing his 145-kph fastball and mixing it with a 110-kph curve, Togame kept the Buffaloes hitters off balance en route to his first win since April 3 and the Lions’ first in three games.

“Because I’d been losing, I definitely wanted to win,” the 30-year-old Togame said. “I think I did a competent job of keeping us in the game.”

Orix ace Chihiro Kaneko (0-4) allowed three runs on four hits and three walks over six innings. Through five innings, the right-hander had retired every Lions batter except slugger Hotaka Yamakawa, who walked in the second and opened the scoring with his 12th home run in the fourth.

Seibu, however, pounded Kaneko into submission in the sixth. After one-out singles by Shogo Akiyama and Sosuke Genda, Hideto Asamura walked and Yamakawa smashed a two-run single. With the game blown open, Orix’s second-tier relievers proved incapable of stopping Seibu’s powerful offense over the final innings.

Fighters 4, Eagles 1

At Sapporo Dome, 21-year-old Hokaido Nippon Ham catcher Yushi Shimizu’s fifth home run of the season, a seventh-inning grand slam, lifted his team to victory over Tohoku Rakuten.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Carp 3, Giants 2

At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Akitake Okada (4-0) allowed two runs over eight innings, and Kosuke Tanaka had two hits and scored two runs as Hiroshima completed a rain-shortened, two-game sweep of Yomiuri.

Tanaka doubled to lead off the eighth and broke a 2-2 tie by scoring after Ryosuke Kikuchi’s single was mishandled in the outfield.

Tigers 4, BayStars 2

At Koshien Stadium, Randy Messenger (5-1) allowed a run over seven innings as Hanshin beat Yokohama.

Messenger singled and scored the tying run in the fifth on Hiroki Uemoto’s two-run single. Uemoto went 3-for-3 with a walk and four RBIs.

Swallows 7, Dragons 6 (10)

At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Wladimir Balentien tied the game with his second home run, a two-run, seventh-inning shot, and drew a leadoff walk in the 10th inning that set up Tokyo Yakult’s winning run against Chunichi. Takahiro Araki ended the game with a one-out, pinch-hit RBI single.