FUKUOKA – Tomohito Sakai allowed a run in seven innings, pitching the Chiba Lotte Marines to a 4-1 Pacific League win over the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on Sunday.
The 25-year-old right-hander located his fastball and flashed good command of his slider and splitter to confound the Hawks’ hitters and induce one poor swing after another. Sakai (2-2) allowed five hits and a walk, while striking out six to outduel Hawks starter Rick van den Hurk.
“I went to the mound thinking this was a game we couldn’t afford to lose. I think this is the first time this season I’ve really been able to contribute to the team,” said Sakai, the Marines’ second draft pick in 2016, who had started the season in the rotation only to be demoted to the minors at the end of April.
“I had a good feel for my pitching from the start of the game and I wanted to maintain that feel for as long as I could. The win is kind of a lucky result for me, but I’m happy to have it.”
Van den Hurk (5-6) allowed four hits over six innings but walked five batters and hit two. He pitched out of some early jams before getting burned in the Marines’ two-run fifth.
With one out in the top of the fifth, Marines leadoff man Takashi Ogino bunted for a single and stole second. Yudai Fujioka drew his second walk, setting the table for back-to-back RBI singles by Shogo Nakamura and Katsuya Kakunaka.
The Marines scored against the Hawks bullpen in the seventh, cashing a run on Seiya Inoue’s sacrifice fly after a hit batsman and two walks.
Alfredo Despaigne got the hosts on the board with his 18th home run, a one-out solo shot in the bottom of the seventh. Sakai surrendered two more hits but no more runs in the inning, getting out of trouble by striking out pinch hitter Shuhei Fukuda on a splitter out of the zone.
Sakai has now done well in two of his three starts since returning to first team duty on June 17. But with the game in the balance in the seventh, he remembered his early season failures.
“I thought, ‘If I give up a hit in this situation, then I’ll be stuck again back where I was in the spring,’ ” he said.
A leadoff walk cost the Hawks another run in the eighth, with Taiga Hirasawa driving in the insurance run from second with a one-out single.
Naoya Masuda retired the Hawks in order in the eighth and Tatsuya Uchi did the same in the ninth for his 19th save.
With two straight wins in Fukuoka, the Marines, who finished last in 2017, are now tied for third place at 37-34 with the Hawks and the Orix Buffaloes.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute more so we can move even higher in the standings,” Sakai said.
Lions 8, Eagles 7
At MetLife Dome, Fumikazu Kimura’s two-out, ninth-inning sayonara home run lifted Seibu past Tohoku Rakuten in a slugfest as the league-leading Lions avoided being swept at home by the last-place Eagles.
Buffaloes 6, Fighters 3
At Sapporo Dome, Brandon Dickson (1-5) allowed a run over six innings, while Masataka Yoshida drove in two of the six runs Orix charged to Nippon Ham rookie starter Yuki Yoshida (0-1) over 3⅔ innings.
Carp 15, BayStars 1
At Yokohama Stadium, Akitake Okada (6-2) allowed a run in seven innings, 2017 CL MVP Yoshihiro Maru homered twice, and Hiroshima pounded out 19 hits to escape its three-game series with the BayStars with a win.
Giants 3, Dragons 0
At Nagoya Dome, former Milwaukee Brewer Taylor Jungmann (1-0) struck out eight in eight innings to win his Japan debut, Hisayoshi Chono homered and drove in two runs, and Scott Mathieson completed Yomiuri’s three-hit shutout win over Chunichi to collect his second save.
Tigers 6, Swallows 5
At Jingu Stadium, Hanshin scored six runs in two innings off Tokyo Yakult rookie Naruki Terashima (0-1) and then survived late rallies to hold on for the win.