Tatsuhiro Shibata played hero in both the field and at the plate on Saturday as the Yokohama DeNA BayStars earned a 7-2 Central League win over the second-place Yomiuri Giants.
Despite the loss at Tokyo Dome, the Giants remained 1½ games behind the league-leading Hanshin Tigers, who lost to the Chunichi Dragons.
Shibata, a light-hitting infielder, made a good play at second to prevent a leadoff single in the third and saved a run with a snappy sixth-inning double play. He then broke a 1-1 tie with a seventh-inning sacrifice fly and drove in an eighth-inning insurance run with his second home run.
With one out in the seventh and runners on second and third, Giants right-hander Shosei Togo (8-5) got ahead of the left-handed-hitting Shibata 0-2. At that instant, Giants manager Tatsunori Hara inexplicably changed pitchers, asking side-arm lefty Ryusei Oe to finish Shibata.
Oe’s first pitch, however, was a lifeless slider down the pipe that Shibata drove to center to break the tie.
“I doubt it’s a situation he (Shibata) has ever been in before, but he maintained his concentration and brought the runner home,” BayStars manager Daisuke Miura said.
After that bizarre turn of events, the Giants collapsed. Oe walked the next batter, and rookie Shugo Maki blasted a three-run pinch-hit homer, his 13th, off Yohei Kagiya to make it 5-1.
The BayStars opened the scoring in the second on Neftali Soto’s 16th home run, but Togo kept the visitors in check before three straight base runners reached in the seventh.
Fernando Romero started for DeNA and lasted 5⅓ innings. Giants veteran Yoshiyuki Kamei chased him with a sixth-inning RBI single. After a walk loaded the bases, Shibata prevented a run by turning a superb double play on a hot shot that deflected off pitcher Yoshiki Sunada’s glove.
Giants cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto drove in a consolation run in the eighth with his 30th home run.
At Vantelin Dome Nagoya, Tigers starter Akira Niho (1-1) allowed three runs in three innings in a 6-2 loss to the Dragons.
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Domingo Santana’s two-run home run brought the Yakult Swallows from behind as they held on to beat the Hiroshima Carp 8-3 and move within a half game of second place.
At Kyocera Dome Osaka, lefty Hiroya Miyagi (11-1) battled his control but still managed to throw seven innings, and Takahiro Okada drove in both runs as the Pacific League-leading Orix Buffaloes beat the Seibu Lions 2-0.
At Sapporo Dome, Takayuki Kishi (6-6) struck out nine over six scoreless innings for the Rakuten Eagles, who remained three games back of the Buffaloes with an 8-4 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters.
At Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome, SoftBank Hawks reliever Sho Iwasaki (2-3) allowed three ninth-inning runs for the second straight day to the third-place Lotte Marines, who won 8-6 and moved a full game ahead of the Hawks.
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