TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – A pair of big at-bats by Sho Nakata and Brandon Laird against tiring lefty Yusei Kikuchi lifted the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to a 5-3 win against the Pacific League-leading Seibu Lions on Friday.
Amid speculation this week of his being posted to the major leagues this autumn, Kikuchi was left in too long, and blew a one-run lead in the seventh inning. Kikuchi (9-3) allowed four runs — three earned — on 11 hits and a walk. He struck out eight over his seven-inning, 127-pitch stint.
With two outs in the seventh and the tying run on third, Kikuchi went up against the heart of the Fighters order for the fourth time, and three straight singles — by Kensuke Kondo, Nakata and Laird — put the visitors in front at MetLife Dome.
Kondo singled to tie it, and a solid at-bat from Nakata put the go-ahead run at second.
“He is having a great season,” Laird said of Nakata, who belted his 21st home run of the season in the ninth. “He had a great at-bat to get me to the plate and hit a big home run in the ninth.”
Laird, who was 0-for-3 so far in the game and 6-for-37 in his career against Kikuchi, admitted he didn’t like his chances.
“I was a little nervous. I’m not going to lie,” said Laird. “Kikuchi’s a good pitcher and I was just trying to get a pitch I could put into play. Fortunately he left a changeup up and I got a hit. I was excited. To see the whole dugout jumping up and down — and to do that against Seibu, who we’re trying to catch in the pennant race — feels good.”
The win trimmed the Lions’ lead over the second-place Fighters to 4-1/2 games. Seibu is trying to win its first PL pennant since 2008, while the Fighters are looking to recover the title they last held in 2016.
Nippon Ham put Kikuchi on the hot seat from the start, and though he pitched out of a two-on, one-out jam in the first, the visitors opened the scoring in the second. Ryo Watanabe smacked a solo homer, while Takuya Nakashima singled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Haruki Nishikawa’s two-out double.
The Lions tied it on solo home runs by Hotaka Yamakawa in the second and Takeya Nakamura in the fifth. Yamakawa’s blast was his sixth homer in seven games and his NPB-best 35th of the season.
Seibu took a 3-2 lead against rookie Mizuki Hori in the sixth, when Yuji Kaneko manufactured a run. The Lions No. 9 hitter led off with a single, stole his 22nd base of the season, advanced to third on a flyout and scored on Sosuke Genda’s sacrifice fly.
But Kikuchi gave up a leadoff single to Nakashima in the seventh. With two outs, Nakashima on third and having thrown 110 pitches, he withered when facing the heart of the Fighters’ batting order.
Hori allowed three runs on three hits and a walk over 5-2/3 innings but did not figure in the decision. He left the game with two on and two outs in the sixth, and fellow rookie Takahiro Nishimura (2-2) got the win after retiring the only batter he faced.
Marines 1, Eagles 0
At Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park, Chiba Lotte’s Kota Futaki (3-3) allowed two singles, walked three and struck out six en route to his first career shutout.
Tohoku Rakuten wasted seven scoreless innings from starter Takahiro Shiomi. Reliever Koji Aoyama (2-1) loaded the bases with one out in the eighth before the Marines’ lone run scored on a groundout.
Hawks 9, Buffaloes 0
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Kodai Senga (9-4) struck out nine without issuing a walk in a six-hit shutout.
Nobuhiro Matsuda gave Fukuoka SoftBank all the runs it would need against Orix with his two-run, second-inning home run.
BayStars 7, Carp 5
At Yokohama Stadium, Yokohama overturned a three-run, eighth-inning deficit when Yoshitomo Tsutsugo followed three-straight, two-out singles with a grand slam.
Toshiro Miyazaki and Neftali Soto provided additional insurance with solo home runs in the BayStars’ victory over Hiroshima.
Dragons 6, Giants 1
At Tokyo Dome, Shotaro Kasahara (2-3) allowed a run over seven solid innings, while Yohei Oshima and Dayan Viciedo hit back-to-back RBI singles to break up a fifth-inning tie in Chunichi’s triumph over Yomiuri.
Swallows 3, Tigers 2
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, David Buchanan (9-8) allowed two runs over six innings, and Wladimir Balentien drove in two runs as Tokyo Yakult edged Hanshin.