Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Shota Hiranuma lifts Fighters with RBI double in seventh, earns first post-game hero interview

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

For a second, Shota Hiranuma thought he might’ve hit the first home run of his pro career.

He came up a few centimeters short, but being responsible for the run that helped give his team a win isn’t a bad consolation prize.

Hiranuma broke a scoreless tie with an RBI double in the seventh and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters edged the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 2-0 on Thursday night at Tokyo Dome.

“I could hear the crowd (reaction) from the outfield stands,” said Hiranuma, who was standing at second while a replay review was ongoing. “Needed just a little more. Next time.”

The hit was still enough to give the Fighters a lead they held onto the rest of the way.

The contest featured a lot less offense than in the two games the teams split in Sendai — with the Fighters winning 13-1 on Tuesday and Rakuten rallying for a 9-8 win Wednesday — before the series finale at the Big Egg in front of a crowd of 42,256.

Eagles pitcher Wataru Karashima had given up a number of hits but no runs entering the seventh.

Yushi Shimizu led off the frame with a double to right, that was nearly caught by outfielder Jabari Blash, and moved to third on Takuya Nakashima’s sacrifice bunt.

Hiranuma then latched onto a first-pitch fastball to drive in the run.

“It felt good when I hit it,” Hiranuma said. “I thought it’d be at least a sacrifice fly.”

Hiranuma may not have gotten his first home run with that hit (he did register his second career RBI), but he did land his first hero interview.

“My mother is watching today, so I’m happy I could become the hero,” he said. “I’ve done it once now, but I want to be able to become the hero again and again.”

The Fighters benefited from another near-catch in the eighth.

Taishi Ota led off the inning with ball to center that rookie Ryosuke Tatsumi jumped to grab. The ball, however, popped out of his glove as he hit the wall and Ota reached third with a triple. Kensuke Kondo made sure the Fighters capitalized with an RBI single that made the score 2-0.

The Eagles got the potential tying run aboard with two outs in the eighth, but Naoki Miyanishi struck out Toshiaki Imae with runners on the corners.

Lefty Takayuki Kato got the start for Nippon Ham and gave the Fighters five scoreless innings, though he finished outside the decision. Mizuki Hori (2-0) threw a scoreless inning in the sixth and earned the win in relief. Ryo Akiyoshi worked the ninth for his seventh save.

Karashima (3-1) turned in seven innings of one-run ball for Rakuten, striking out four and walking a pair, but was charged with the loss.

He didn’t get much help from his offense, with the Eagles lineup limited to Ginji Akaminai’s double in the second, Hiroaki Shimauchi’s single in the seventh.

Takahashi tames Lions

Fukuoka

KYODO

Rookie Rei Takahashi allowed a run over eight innings, leading the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks to a 5-1 victory over the Seibu Lions in the Pacific League on Thursday.

The league leaders entered having lost three straight games, and this one was tightly balanced until catcher Takuya Kai’s seventh-inning solo home run broke a 1-1 tie and the Hawks iced the game with a three-run eighth.

Takahashi, a 23-year-old right-hander with a low-velocity fastball, struck out just two batters, but displayed good control and mixed his pitches. He scattered five hits and walked none as he got NPB’s most dangerous lineup to pound the ball into the ground.

With Takahashi locked in a pitchers’ duel with left Daiki Enokida (1-1) Kai hit the Hawks’ second opposite-field homer of the night, striking a 2-2 fastball into the seats in right for his fourth home run of the season.

“My job is to keep rallies alive, so I focused on keeping my swing compact so I could reach base. But I thought it was gone the instant I hit it,” Kai said.

“Takahashi pitched at his own pace. It’s a lot of fun catching him because he challenges hitters, and he did some superb pitching today.”

Yurisbel Gracial got SoftBank on the board in the fourth inning, reaching the right-field seats for his sixth homer of the season.

The Lions, however, tied it in the fifth, when Takahashi grooved a 134-kph fastball to six-time PL home run leader Takeya Nakamura.

With two outs in the eighth, Gracial singled in two runs to end Enokida’s night, and Seiichi Uchikawa added another RBI single to close out the scoring.

Marines 9, Buffaloes 2

At Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, Chiba Lotte hammered Orix right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto (2-2) for six runs — two earned — over 5-2/3 innings.

It was Yamamoto’s earliest exit of the season.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Dragons 3, BayStars 2

At Yokohama Stadium, left-hander Enny Romero (3-2) allowed a run over seven innings as Chunichi edged last-place Yokohama.

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