FUKUOKA – Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks slugger Alfredo Despaigne stole the spotlight from a duel of big-name pitchers on Monday, homering twice to lead the Pacific League-leading SoftBank Hawks to a 6-3 win over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Despaigne capped the Hawks’ three-run first inning with a two-run homer off lefty Mitsuo Yoshikawa at a sold-out Yafuoku Dome. The Cuban slugger mishit the ball and seemed as surprised as anyone when it landed just over the inner fence in right field.
“With a veteran like (Tsuyoshi) Wada on the mound for us, we all thought it was a game we could go out and win,” Despaigne said. “I’m pretty happy I could contribute with that first home run, even if it barely got out.”
Yoshikawa (0-3) worked just two innings in the role of “short starter,” before giving way to former Sawamura Award winner Chihiro Kaneko.
Kaneko allowed two hits and a walk over five scoreless innings to keep the game close against Wada. The Hawks’ veteran lefty and former big leaguer struck out five and allowed one run over five innings.
Wada (3-2), returning to the mound for the first time since suffering a right hamstring injury on July 20, struck out the side in the first. But after that, he struggled with his location. He surrendered a leadoff homer in the fifth and allowed a pair of two-out singles before making his escape.
Rookie Hawks reliever Hiroshi Kaino snuffed out a Fighters’ seventh-inning rally. Entering with one out and the tying runs on second and third, Kaino struck out two of the Fighters’ best: Taishi Ota and Kensuke Kondo.
With the Hawks still leading 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth, Despaigne belted his 29th home run, a three-run shot off reliever Naoya Ishikawa.
“I wanted to keep my swing compact. It’s really great that the home run contributed to the victory,” Despaigne said.
The Fighters, however, struck back for two runs against reliever Ren Kajiya in the ninth before closer Yuito Mori came in to shut the visitors down and complete the Hawks’ three-game sweep.
Lions 9, Marines 2
At Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba, Lions pitcher Zach Neal (6-1) allowed a run over 6⅔ innings to earn the win. The Saitama Seibu Lions took the lead for good on an error and a sacrifice fly against Lotte Marines starter Mike Bolsinger (3-4).
Eagles 3, Buffaloes 2
At Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, rookie Yoshiaki Watanabe’s two-out, 10th-inning double off Orix closer Brandon Dickson (2-1) scored Kazuki Tanaka from first with the winning run as the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles beat the Buffaloes.
Swallows 5, BayStars 4
At Jingu Stadium, 19-year-old rookie Munetaka Murakami ended the game with his 25th home run, a two-run sayonara shot that lifted the Tokyo Yakult Swallows past the Yokohama BayStars.
Dragons 5, Tigers 1
At Nagoya Dome, rookie Kodai Umetsu (1-0), Chunichi’s second draft pick last autumn, struck out seven while allowing one run over six innings to win his pro debut as the Dragons beat the Hanshin Tigers. Former Dragon Onelki Garcia (2-6) took the loss.
Giants 8, Carp 7
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Alex Guerrero homered for the fifth time in four games, scored twice and drove in three runs for Yomiuri as the Giants held off the Hiroshima Carp in a 4-hour, 17-minute game.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5