Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Swallows beat Fighters to clinch first interleague crown

Kyodo

Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa allowed a run over six innings as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows beat the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 5-1 on Sunday to clinch this season’s best interleague record.

Until Sunday, the Yomiuri Giants were the only Central League team to have won the interleague title. Despite three CL wins on Sunday, however, the Pacific League has now led interleague in total wins in 13 of the 14 seasons since the format began in 2005.

Wladimir Balentien broke the ice at Sapporo Dome with a first-inning RBI single. In the sixth, he led off with a single and broke a 1-1 tie when he scored Takahiro Araki’s sacrifice fly.

The Swallows got going in the first with one out against lefty Takayuki Kato. After Norichika Aoki and Shingo Kawabata singled, Balentien hit a 3-2 pitch to put the visitors ahead.

The Fighters tied it in the third on a Yushi Shimizu leadoff single, a sacrifice and a two-out Taishi Ota RBI single. Ogawa got out of the inning by striking out Kensuke Kondo. The Pacific League batting leader fouled off four-straight, two-strike pitches before going down swinging.

Ogawa, who had elbow surgery last October to repair a stress fracture, has thrown three straight quality starts and won his last three decisions.

“I didn’t do anything that well today, but I was able to battle,” Ogawa said. “I gave up hits but I just kept at it.”

In the top of the sixth, Kazuhiro Hatakeyama doubled Balentien to third. After Araki’s sacrifice fly, he came home on Tomotaka Sakaguchi’s single.

As Ogawa (3-2) crossed the 100-pitch mark in the sixth-inning, he surrendered back-to-back singles against the Fighters’ fourth and fifth hitters, Sho Nakata and Brandon Laird. But the right-hander struck out Oswaldo Arcia for the second straight time to ease the pressure. Ogawa then lucked his way out of the inning when pinch hitter Kenji Yano drove a pitch hard and deep but straight to Araki in left.

“Since I came back (from surgery), I’ve been on a pitch count,” Ogawa said. “Going forward I want to go deeper in games. Interleague is really tough, but now we want to just keep going forward.”

Ogawa allowed a run on eight hits, all singles. He struck out six without issuing a walk and finished with 109 pitches on his account. Rookie lefty Hikaru Nakao retired Kondo to escape a two-on, two-out jam in the seventh.

Aoki doubled home Shuhei Nakamura and Tetsuto Yamada with an eighth-inning double, and journeyman right-hander Kazuki Kondo worked around a leadoff single to keep the Fighters off the board in the eighth. Right-hander Taichi Ishiyama worked a scoreless ninth.

The Orix Buffaloes can still tie the Swallows for the lead in winning percentage but would finish second by virtue of losing their three-game series against Yakult.

“Having a winning record against the Pacific League is huge,” said Swallows manger Junji Ogawa, whose club was 17-26 and 9½ games out of first place at the start of interleague on June 1.

The Swallows have a makeup game against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on Tuesday. Yakult finished Sunday’s game at 29-31 in a tie for second place in their league, 4½ games behind the leading Hiroshima Carp.

Dragons 11, Lions 3

At MetLife Dome, rookie Kento Fujishima (1-0), starting in an emergency after scheduled starter Daisuke Matsuzaka felt back spasms while warming up, allowed two runs over six innings to win his first career victory in Chunichi’s win over Seibu.

Eagles 8, Tigers 0

At Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, a day after manager Masataka Nashida announced he was stepping down, Tohoku Rakuten’s offense exploded and Manabu Mima (1-6) held Hanshin to three hits and three walks over seven innings.

Carp 13, Hawks 4

At Yafuoku Dome, Allen Kuri (2-2) posted his first career complete game victory, and Xavier Batista gave him a huge boost by capping a four-run first with a three-run home run. The win over Fukuoka SoftBank snapped CL-leading Hiroshima’s five-game losing streak.

Buffaloes 7, BayStars 1

At Kyocera Dome, rookie lefty Daiki Tajima (6-3) struck out nine, while allowing a run over seven innings, and Kengo Takeda drove in Orix’s first three runs against Yokohama.

Marines 2, Giants 1

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Taiga Hirasawa capped a two-run, ninth-inning comeback with a one-out, RBI single after Chiba Lotte loaded the bases against Yomiuri closer Arquimedes Caminero (1-1) with two singles and a walk. A high chopper to the pitcher tied it before Hirasawa singled to win it.