NPB games, news of July 4, 2019

The SoftBank Hawks served up a Cuban sandwich to the Rakuten Eagles, completing a sweep of their closest Pacific League rivals thanks to big nights from Cubans Yurisbel Gracial and Alfredo Despaigne.

Gracial homered and drove in six runs in Tuesday’s opener and sandwiched Despaigne’s grand slam on Wednesday with a two-homer, five-RBI night to back Kodai Senga in Thursday’s finale as the Hawks won their seventh straight.

Pacific League

Hawks 6, Eagles 3

At Yafuoku Dome, Yurisbel Gracial drove in five runs, and Kodai Senga (9-2) allowed two runs over seven innings on short rest as SoftBank completed a three-game sweep of Rakuten that left the Eagles five games out in second place.

Jabari Blash homered and doubled and scored both of Rakuten’s runs against Senga, who struck out 10. Working on five days rest for the second time this season, Senga was clinging to a one-run lead in the sixth, when he allowed a leadoff single to Hideto Asamura.

With one out and Asamura on second, he threw two good cutters on the outer border of the zone to get to 2-2 against Blash. With everyone in the park knowing a splitter was coming, he nearly bounced one but Blash couldn’t hold up and was called out. After a two-out walk, Senga sent Zelous Wheeler down on strikes — with the help of two borderline calls on the outside corner.

“I couldn’t allow a run there, so I was completely going for strikeouts there,” Senga said. “It worked out well.”

With two on in the bottom of the sixth, and Gracial coming up, the Eagles went to the pen so he would not go 3-for-3 against starter Wataru Karashima (5-4). The lefty came out for right-hander Koji Aoyama, who missed up in the zone, and Gracial hit it just over the inner wall in left.

See game highlights HERE.

Lions 8, Fighters 2

At Sapporo Dome, Mitsuo Yoshikawa, pitching for Nippon Ham for the first time since 2016 following his trade from Yomiuri last week, allowed three runs on three hits and three walks over 2-1/3 innings.

Shuta Tonosaki and Takeya Nakamura did most of the damage for the Lions, each driving in three with a third-inning triple, and a seventh-inning double, respectively.

“(Tonosaki) really did a great job,” Seibu skipper Hatsuhiko Tsuji said. “He really has a knack for hitting breaking pitches right from the start of the at-bat.”

And Yoshikawa admitted he didn’t make it hard on him.

“I left the middle relievers to shoulder too big of a burden,” said Yoshikawa, the PL’s 2012 MVP. “I missed badly with a first-pitch changeup and that ruined everything.”

Zach Neal (3-1) struck out five over six scoreless innings to win his second straight start.

“This ain’t the time to be looking back at things,” Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama said. “There are simply so many things we need to do.”

See game highlights HERE.

Buffaloes 4, Marines 2

At Kyocera Dome, Masataka Yoshida had a pair of RBI singles, and Shuhei Fukuda broke a 2-2 tie with a fifth-inning RBI triple as Orix beat Lotte.

Rookie Marines lefty Kazuya Ojima (0-2) allowed four runs over six innings to remain winless in his two-game career.

Buffaloes right-hander Brandon Dickson, threw a scoreless ninth, his sixthstraight appearance without allowing a run, to record his fourth save.

See game highlights HERE.

Central League

Giants 5, Dragons 3

At Tokyo Dome, Hayato Sakamoto broke open the scoring with his 24th home run, a second-inning grand slam off lefty Enny Romero (1-2), who walked five of the first 10 batters he faced.

Neither team scored in the first thanks to a pair of inning-ending, bases-loaded double plays

Nobutaka Imamura (2-1), who singled and scored on Sakamoto’s homer, got the win after allowing three runs over six innings, and three relievers pitched in with one scoreless inning apiece with Kota Nakagawa striking out two in the ninth en route to his 11th save.

See game highlights HERE.

Swallows 7, Carp 2

At Mazda Stadium, 22-year-old Yakult rookie Shota Nakayama hit a three-run home run to keep 20-year-old Munetaka Murakami from gabbing all the headlines and seal a three-game sweep of Hiroshima.

A day after Murakami hit a game-breaking grand slam, Nakayama, the Swallows’ second draft pick last year, hit his fourth home run in his 44th at-bat. With one out in the third and the Swallows leading 2-1 after Norichika Aoki’s two-run single, Murakami took Kris Johnson (6-4) deep to the opposite field.

Swallows rookie Keiji Takahashi (2-3) won the duel of lefties, holding Hiroshima’s currently anemic offense to two runs over six innings.

“I began to feel they were sitting on my fastball, so from the fourth inning on, I used a lot more breaking pitches and that got me double plays,” said Takahashi.

Ryota Igarashi, pitching for the first time since June 16, loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, forcing Scott McGough to close it out for his first save in Japan.

BayStars 7, Tigers 2

At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA’s Neftali Soto broke a 2-2, third-inning tie when he doubled and scored on a Yoshitomo Tsutsugo single off Randy Messenger (3-6) in a win over Hanshin.

BayStars rookie Shinichi Onuki (4-3) allowed two runs, one earned, while striking out six over five innings to earn the win.

News

Eagles’ Imae out with eye issues

The Rakuten Eagles have deactivated veteran infielder Toshiaki Imae due to discomfort in his right eye. He reportedly has been complaining of trouble with the eye since before the start of spring training.

“It’s said his vision is a little blurred,” Eagles manager Yosuke Hiraishi said. “It hasn’t gotten better for some days, so rather than push it when he’s anxious about it, perhaps it’s better for him to go down to the farm, reset and come back when it’s better.”

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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