Masataka Yoshida turned Masahiro Tanaka’s impressive start on its head with a come-from-behind three-run homer that lifted the Orix Buffaloes to a 4-3 win over the Pacific League-leading Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on Saturday.
Tanaka (2-3) cruised through the first five innings but surrendered back-to-back one-out sixth-inning singles to Shuhei Fukuda and Yuma Mune to bring up Yoshida, the Buffaloes’ most productive hitter.
Yoshida put a good swing on a 1-0 two-seam fastball and his high fly to left field just barely carried over the fence at Hotto Motto Field Kobe for his eighth home run and a 3-2 Orix lead.
“We weren’t getting many chances, so I wanted to bring the runners in,” said Yoshida, whose fourth-inning single was Orix’s first hit. “I think he’s the No. 1 pitcher in Japanese baseball, so hitting him is a confidence boost for me.”
Tanaka allowed a double in the inning before retiring the final five batters he faced and leaving after seven innings. The former New York Yankee allowed six hits and struck out eight without issuing a walk.
“Those three sixth-inning runs were decisive,” Tanaka said. “I was able to pitch well but it wasn’t winning pitching.”
Fukuda and Mune set up Orix’s fourth run. Fukuda opened the Buffaloes’ eighth with a nine-pitch leadoff walk, went to third on Mune’s run-and-hit single, and scored on Yutaro Sugimoto’s sac fly.
The Eagles scratched out single runs in the third and fourth against Buffaloes lefty Daiki Tajima, who allowed two runs, one earned, on seven hits, four walks and a hit batsman.
Kohei Suzuki, Orix’s seventh pitcher, earned his first career save, getting two outs in the ninth after 41-year-old lefty Atsushi Nomi allowed a run and left him two men on base.
“That was a tough one,” Buffaloes manager Satoshi Nakajima said. “(Yoshida) is our lead actor. He’s so reliable.”
At Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, the Saitama Seibu Lions’ Wataru Matsumoto (3-3) went eight innings in a 3-0 win over the Chiba Lotte Marines.
At Sapporo Dome, Nick Martinez (2-1) allowed two runs over five innings, and Seiji Uebayashi drove in three in the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ 7-3 win over Martinez’s former team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
At Nagoya’s Vantelin Dome, Yasuhiro Ogawa (3-1) threw a three-hitter as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows beat the Chunichi Dragons 5-0 in the Central League.
At Tokyo Dome, new import Justin Smoak brought the Yomiuri Giants from a run down in the fifth inning with his third home run, a three-run shot in a 5-3 win over the Hanshin Tigers.
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