Hawks overcome Marines in defensive struggle
“Much of what we think of pitching is actually defense.”–-Bill James
This was evident on Saturday afternoon at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome, where shortstop Kenta Imamiya starred for SoftBank in their 3-2 Pacific League win over the Lotte Marines, posting a pair of fielding highlights while playing a big role on the offensive side.
Marines starter Manabu Mima impressed, holding the four-time defending Japan Series champs to a run on five hits and three walks over six innings. SoftBank, however, turned an awful outing by submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi into a quality start with two big plays from Imamiya and another from second baseman Ukyo Shuto.
Takahashi hit two batters in the first and walked in two more. With two outs and one run in, Imamiya dove into the hole and threw out Takashi Toritani from his knees. At 39, Toritani no longer runs like he once did, but it was a sparkler nonetheless.
With no outs in the fourth, Toritani again looked like he was going to get the Marines’ first hit on a grounder into right, but the speedy Shukyo cut it off and threw him out. The Marines took a 2-0 lead in the fifth on a Takashi Ogino double and a Leonys Martin single. With one out and a runner on first, Imamiya robbed Hisanori Yasuda of an infield single to limit the damage.
Imamiya, who doubled and scored in the sixth, was one-upped in the seventh. With two outs and the bases loaded, 20-year-old Marines center fielder Kyota Fujiwara robbed him of a three-run double. With the Lotte outfield playing shallow as Japanese teams do with a runner on second, Imamiya lined a pitch from Yuki Karakawa to medium deep center, where Fujiwara ran it down and caught it with a leap.
The Hawks’ Cuban connection delivered the tying run in the eighth against Frank Herrmann. Yurisbel Gracial, whose single plated Imamiya in the sixth, singled with one out in the eighth. Pinch-runner Taisei Makihara stole second on a run-and-hit strikeout that forced the hard-to-strike-out Akira Nakamura to wave at a pitch out of the zone. But the steal allowed Makihara to fly home on Alfredo Despaigne’s two-out single.
Hawks closer Yuito Mori worked a 1-2-3 ninth. Shuto singled in the ninth against Marines closer Naoya Masuda (0-1), took third on a bounced pick-off throw and scored on a fly to deep center against an outfield that was pulled in shallow, analyst Chihro Hamana said, “like a little league game.”
At MetLife Dome, 19-year-old lefty Hiroya Miyagi, the Orix Buffaloes’ top signing from the 2018 draft, struck out eight while allowing a run over seven innings in a 3-2 win over the Seibu Lions. With the game tied 1-1 in the fourth, Adam Jones doubled and scored after a Steven Moya single. Jones also walked twice. Reed Garrett struck out two in a scoreless eighth for the Lions.
At Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park, Yuki James Nomura broke a 2-2 third-inning tie with a two-run single as the Nippon Ham Fighters whacked the Rakuten Eagles 9-4. With Masahiro Tanaka out three weeks due to a soleus (calf) muscle injury, the Eagles dropped the season’s first bullpen game rather than move Sunday’s starter, rookie Takahisa Hayakawa up a day.
Kensuke Kondo singled twice, tripled and drove in four runs for the Fighters, while Eagles reliever Alan Busenitz gave up three runs in the ninth in the 4-hour, 26-minute game.
In the Central League, Hanshin Tigers rookie Teruaki Sato capped a four-run first inning off new Yakult Swallows lefty Kazuto Taguchi (0-1) with a two-run homer, his first hit as a pro, if we don’t count his first pro hit in practice games or his first pro hit in preseason exhibitions. Sato also walked and singled in the 9-5 win at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Jefry Marte walked twice and scored twice for the Tigers, while Jerry Sands, who homered twice on Opening Day, delivered a first-inning sac fly, while catcher Ryutaro Umeno doubled twice, singled and drove in three runs.
At Tokyo Dome, Yomiuri Giants right-hander Shosei “Admiral” Togo (1-0) allowed a run over seven innings while striking out six in a 10-5 win over the DeNA BayStars. Thyago Vieira allowed the visitors three consolation runs in the ninth, while Takayuki Kajitani’s first hit as a Giant was a sixth-inning grand slam against the club he left as a free agent.
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Allen Kuri (1-0) struck out six while allowing a run over six innings as the Hiroshima Carp beat the Chunichi Dragons 4-1. Kosuke Tanaka homered to tie it 1-1 in the bottom of the first, while Hiroshima took the lead for good on RBI singles by Seiya Suzuki and 22-year-old catcher Shogo Sakakura, who also doubled from the No. 5 hole.
New Carp Kevin Cron went 0-for-2 with a sixth-inning walk that contributed to Hiroshima’s final run. Carp rookie Ryoji Kuribayashi, their first-round signing from last year’s draft, worked a 1-2-3 ninth to record his first save.