KOBE – A first-inning blast from Takeya Nakamura proved the difference Tuesday as the Seibu Lions overpowered the Orix Buffaloes 5-1 in the Pacific League.
Seibu starter Zach Neal (9-1) moved closer to a 10-win season in his first year in Japan, getting the victory after striking out three, while allowing five hits and no walks in 6-1/3 innings.
The Lions, who started the day one game behind the PL-leading Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, received contributions from five other pitchers after manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji pulled Neal in the top of the seventh at Hotto Motto Field.
The former Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher said he was focused on forcing the Buffaloes batters to put ground balls in play for easy outs.
“(I was) just trying to fill the zone up and let the (fielders) behind me work,” Neal said. “We have a really good team, so I just try to get a lot of ground balls for them.”
Nakamura delivered the decisive blow on his first pitch from right-hander Yudai Aranishi (1-3), scoring Tomoya Mori with a two-run shot over the center-field fence.
“It felt good as soon as I hit it,” said Nakamura, who quipped he was nevertheless feeling “a lot of aches and pains” in his 36-year-old body.
Going by his recent numbers, the veteran appears to be in peak condition. The home run was No. 26 of the season for Nakamura, who batted .384 with 33 hits and 25 RBIs in an outstanding month of August.
The visitors added three runs in the top of the ninth with Orix right-hander Keisuke Kobayashi on the mound.
Mori and Takumi Kuriyama contributed RBI doubles, while Daichi Mizuguchi rounded the bases from second on a fielding error.
The Buffaloes scored a consolation run in the final frame when Steven Moya came home from third as Ryoichi Adachi grounded out against Tatsushi Matsuda.
Hawks 3, Eagles 2
At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, Fukuoka SoftBank edged Tohoku Rakuten, with rookie right-hander Rei Takahashi (11-3) tossing 7⅓ solid innings.
Marines 2, Fighters 0
At Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, Chiba Lotte defeated last-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham, scoring both runs in the bottom of the first.
Dragons 4, Giants 3
At Niigata’s Hard Off Eco Stadium, Toshiki Abe went 3-for-4 with an RBI to lead Chunichi past first-place Yomiuri.
Carp 3, Swallows 0
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Hiroshima starter Kris Johnson (10-7) secured his fourth 10-win season over the past five years, throwing eight scoreless innings in a victory over Tokyo Yakult.
Tigers at BayStars — ppd.