YOKOHAMA – Yokohama BayStars manager Alex Ramirez knew his team was going to need a big performance in order to slow down the streaking Chunichi Dragons and their star pitcher Yuya Yanagi.
With BayStars starter Kentaro Taira leading the way, Ramirez’s club delivered.
Taira (2-2) threw six shutout innings, Jose Lopez hit a three-run homer in the opening frame and the BayStars cooled off the red-hot Chunichi Dragons with a 3-2 victory in front of 31,699 at Yokohama Stadium on Friday night.
“He was good right from the beginning,” Ramirez said of Taira. “He was able to keep the hitters off balance the whole time. Another thing that really helped was Lopez hitting that three-run home run in the first inning. That gave him more confidence. That being said, he was able to control himself the whole game.”
The two clubs entered the contest in a tie for second place in the Central League standings.
The Dragons had also been on an eight-game win streak, their first since 2010, before running headfirst into a pitcher who has had past success against them.
Taira kept the Chunichi hitters off balance all night and finished with eight strikeouts and just one walk.
“I was able to get strikeouts against the right-handed batters with my slider and against the lefties, I could mix in my sinker while still throwing my fastball and slider,” he said.
He held the Dragons’ Nos. 1-4 hitters, Ryosuke Hirata, Yohei Oshima, Zoilo Almonte and Dayan Viciedo, who had all been hot during the win streak, to two singles in their 12 combined trips to the plate against him.
“He always pitches with really good control,” reliever Kazuki Mishima said of Taira.
Taira’s big night helped him outduel Yanagi, Chunichi’s All-Star pitcher. The Dragons righty had won his last eight decisions and was looking to reach 10 wins for the first time in his career. Yanagi allowed Lopez’s homer in the first but settled down from then on. He pitched seven innings, allowing three runs on eight hits.
“Only something like that could beat him,” Ramirez said, referring to Lopez’s home run. “That guy is very tough, he’s becoming one of the best pitchers in the Central League. Right after that, he settled down and he became better.”
Lopez’s 21st homer of the year accounted for all of Yokohama’s runs.
“It’s all thanks to God,” he said.
BayStars slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who has been hitting out of the No. 2 spot recently, finished 2-for-4.
Oshima and Almote each recorded an RBI for Chunichi.
Tsutsugo hit a one-out double and Neftali Soto drew a walk to set the table for Lopez, the BayStars’ cleanup hitter, in the bottom of the first. Lopez took a pair of fastballs out of the zone and swung through a cutter before connecting on another cutter and sending the ball into the stands in left.
Taira and the Yokohama pitchers kept Chunichi off the scoreboard for the next several frames, but the Dragons didn’t go quietly.
Pinch hitter Masataka Iryo singled against reliever Spencer Patton to begin the eighth and Hirata followed with one of his own. Oshima then got a hit to right to get the Dragons on the board. Almonte grounded out with runners on the corners to bring in another run and make it 3-2. Patton struck out Viciedo for the second out of the inning but walked Issei Endo. Ramirez summoned Mishima out of the bullpen and he retired Yota Kyoda on two pitches to end the threat.
“I’m happy I was able to help out Patton in that situation,” Mishima said.
After splitting the first two games of their three-game set, the CL clubs will meet again on Saturday night in Yokohama.
Kenta Ishida, who is winless in 23 appearances, will take the mound as the starter for the BayStars against the Dragons and veteran Daisuke Yamai (3-3).
As for his starter on Friday, Ramirez said how deep Taira goes in games going forward will depend on the situation.
“For any manager, if he can pitch six innings, no runs, every single time he pitches, that would be the best thing, right?” Ramirez joked.