The pitching matchup between aces Yusei Kikuchi and Tomoyuki Sugano fizzled out early on Friday night.
As for the Seibu Lions’ lineup, well, they were as good as advertised.
Shogo Akiyama led off the game with a home run to set the tone at the plate and Kikuchi outpitched the Yomiuri Giants’ ace in the Lions’ 5-4 victory in front of a crowd of 45,533, which included scouts from several major league teams, at Tokyo Dome.
“I didn’t really have any special feelings about it,” Kikuchi said of the pitching matchup. “I just wanted to pitch with everything I had.
“Akiyama-san put a run on the board in the first inning, that helped me.”
The Pacific League’s Lions improved to 7-2 in interleague play with their fourth straight victory. They’re tied with the Central League’s Tokyo Yakult Swallows at the top of the standings. The CL’s Giants fell to 3-7 and are in 10th place.
Kikuchi and Sugano were the best two pitchers in Japan last season, with the Yomiuri righty edging the Seibu lefty for the 2017 Sawamura Award.
Kikuchi got the better of the matchup on Friday.
The Lions ace turned in seven shutout frames, allowing a pair of hits, striking out three and walking three. It was his second start since returning to the active roster after being sidelined with stiffness in his left shoulder last month.
“I didn’t really have my best fastball today,” Kikuchi said. “I just tried to hit my spots and give my best.”
Kikuchi (7-0) moved into a four-way tie for the most wins in the Pacific League.
He also got on base and came around to score during the contest.
“Luckily I didn’t have to slide or anything” he joked.
Sugano (6-4) on the other hand gave up a home run on his third pitch. That turned out to be the precursor of an off-night that saw him allow five runs — four earned — on 10 hits over five innings. He struck out four and walked one.
Akiyama finished with a home run, a double, a single and a pair of RBIs.
“Since I was facing such a good pitcher, I went into that at-bat well-prepared,” Akiyama said of his first-inning home run.
The homer was Akiyama’s 10th of the season, and the Lions leadoff man also had three hits for the second straight game.
“It was kind of an amazing home run” Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji said. “I knew it was gone instantly.”
Hideto Asamura, Pacific League RBI leader Hotaka Yamakawa and Ginjiro Sumitani also drove in runs for Seibu.
Akiyama gave Seibu the lead in the first, and Asamura added to it with an RBI single in the third. Yamakawa then singled in another run to make it 3-0.
Akiyama was back at it in the fifth, connecting on an RBI double.
“I was able to get the pitch I was looking for,” Akiyama said. “I’m glad we were able to add a run.
Sumitani’s RBI single in the fifth added to Sugano’s misery.
Hayato Sakamoto gave the Giants a one-out baserunner with a single in the eighth, and Naoki Yoshikawa sent Neil Wagner’s forkball over the wall in right to make the score 5-2.
Yomiuri’s Shunta Tanaka and Sakamoto each drove in a run in the ninth, but that was as close as the Giants would get.
Buffaloes 3, Swallows 0
BayStars 5, Fighters 2
Dragons 5, Hawks 4
Carp 7, Eagles 0
Marines at Tigers — ppd.
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