Sands decides wild Tigers win
Tigers 7, BayStars 5
At Koshien Stadium, there was plenty of weirdness in the air in a see-saw game decided when Hanshin’s Jerry Sands hammered a ball out to center for a two-run, tie-breaking seventh-inning homer in Central League-leading Hanshin’s win over last-place DeNA.
Rookie Teruaki Sato gave the Tigers a jump start by plating Sands with a two-run second-inning homer, but the visitors tied it in the fourth with one lucky hit and three hits on good swings from the top of the order against starter Joe Gunkel. The right-hander allowed another run from the same crew in the fifth.
Gunkel, however, opened the Tigers’ fifth with a booming double and scored from third on a wild pitch, with BayStars starter Kosuke Sakaguchi hurting his non-pitching wrist when he and Gunkel collided at home. A double, a walk and and an uncaught pop fly near the mound put the Tigers back in front 4-3.
With Gunkel gone after 5-2/3 innings, the weirdness shifted to right field. After a leadoff walk to Tomo Otosaka, who scored three of the DeNA runs, rookie Sato, a novice outfielder, took a bad route to a sinking liner in right and came up empty. Tyler Austin, who had singled and walked so far, then got some revenge on Koshien Stadium.
A year ago, Austin was hurt running into the padded outfield wall in right, and on Sunday he launched a drive to the same spot that Sato couldn’t catch off the screen for an RBI double and a 4-4 tie. Keita Sano, who had two RBI singles so far, hit a foul sacrifice fly to put DeNA up a run.
The Tigers then clinched it in the seventh. A single, a wild pitch, a walk and a sacrifice put two in scoring position. Koji Chikamoto challenged Otosaka’s arm in center on a medium-deep fly and scored on the wide throw.
Tigers captain Kento Itohara took third when BayStars catcher Shuto Takajo turned his back on the infield. The Pro Yakyu News guys attributed what happened next to Itohara’s base running, that it so unnerved the DeNA battery that they threw a 1-0 fastball down the pipe. It was just above the knees, but it ran onto the barrel and Sands didn’t miss.
Tigers lefty Suguru Iwazaki pitched out of a two-on one-out pickle in the eighth, and Robert Suarez surrendered singles to Austin and Sano before getting his sixth save with three straight outs.
Swallows 4, Dragons 3
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, where balls were really flying, Yakult out-homered Chunichi 4-2 and held on to give Opening Day starter Yasuhiro Ogawa (2-1) the win after he gave up three runs on eight hits but no walks over seven innings.
Shinnosuke Ogasawara (1-2) allowed solo homers to Yuhei Nakamura in the first and to Munetaka Murakami and newcomers Domingo Santana and Jose Osuna in the fourth, and Chunichi was unable to catch up against the Swallows’ steady bullpen. Noboru Shimizu, who led the CL with 30 holds last season, recorded his CL-best 11th, and Taichi Ishiyama tied Kuribayashi for the CL lead with his eighth save.
Dayan Viciedo doubled to drive in the Dragons’ third run, the only one not to score on a ball over the wall.
Carp 9, Giants 8
At Tokyo Dome, Hiroshima’s new cleanup hitter, the relatively powerless (at least for a No. 4 hitter) Ryoma Nishikawa with one home run in every 40 at-bats over his career, had four singles and a walk, scored a run and drove in three. Kevin Cron belted a two-run homer, his second in Japan, for the Carp, who led 8-2 before the Yomiuri Giants tested their young bullpen.
And they are young, with their three top draft picks from last autumn all contributing. ON Sunday, they sent Robert Corniel (25), 22-year-old lefty Daisuke Moriura (No. 2), 22-year-old Haruki Omichi (No. 3), 24-year-old lefty Atsuya Horie, and 24-year-old top draft pick Ryoji Kuribayashi to the mound.
Corniel worked two scoreless innings, but Moriura, Omichi and Horie allowed six between them. Another rookie, 21-year-old Shohei Nakamura, Hiroshima’s top pick in 2017 out of high school, doubled off Giants lefty Kota Nakagawa (1-1) to open the ninth, and leadoff man Ryosuke Kikuchi, who had three hits and scored twice delivered the sac fly. Horie (1-1), who allowed a run in two-thirds of an inning, got the win, and Kuribayashi struck out the meat of the Giants order in the ninth to get his eighth save.
Yusuke Nomura, who extended his Japan record for consecutive starts without a relief appearance to 189 after spending a week on the farm because No. 188 on April 11 was such a dud, allowed two runs over five innings and was out of the game in the sixth with Hiroshima leading by six.
Yomiuri lefty Nobutaka Imamura, who entered the game with a 0.92 ERA, allowed three runs over four-plus innings, but things got worse after he left the mound.
Marines 8, Hawks 5
At Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, Lotte rookie Shota Suzuki (1-1) finally got the gift of run support. Pitching for a team that had scored 4.96 runs a game through their first 26, the Marines had scored 1.96 per nine this season when Suzuki was the pitcher of record. The rookie hazing stopped on Sunday, when Lotte staked him to an eight-run lead through six.
Suzuki allowed two runs over 6-1/3 innings, both in the seventh, and looked poised with runners on base. Yuki Matsumoto (1-1) kept the game scoreless through four innings, only to get lit up after two were out. With one on, Leonys Martin singled, Shogo Nakamura doubled in both runners and scored on Hisanori Yasuda’s fifth homer. The Hawks tormented Lotte’s bullpen but the game was out of reach.
Fighters 4, Buffaloes 4
At Sapporo Dome, Nippon Ham’s Chihiro Kaneko turned in a solid effort against his former club, allowing a run on seven hits and a walk over five innings, but middle relief ace Naoki Miyanishi blew a 3-1 Fighters lead in the eighth.
The lefty allowed four hits to the six batters he faced. Adam Jones tied it with a flare pinch-hit single, and Takahiro Okada’s second sac fly of the game plated Kodai Kurebayashi with the go-ahead run.
The Fighters scored three, two earned, off Daichi Takeyasu in the first inning, but then stalled. After a second-inning leadoff single, 16 straight batters were retired before Ronny Rodriguez walked with one out in the seventh. Five straight outs followed before Kensuke tied it in the ninth. Kondo led off and put a quality swing on a low Tyler Higgins fastball and drove it out to left for his fourth home run.
Steven Moya doubled and scored in the second on Okada’s first sac fly, and Orix twice wasted scoring opportunities, once when Ryo Ota was picked off second after Ryo Adachi whiffed on an attempted bunt. Adachi struck out and Masataka Yoshida, back in a more conventional role as the No. 3 hitter after Orix manager had put the light-hitting Adachi there for a few games, singled over third baseman Takuya Kori, who was playing in shallow right.
Shifting on Yoshida
The Fighters have tried numerous different shifts against Masataka Yoshida the past three seasons, but gave up three hits to the left-handed-hitting pocket battleship on Sunday, when Kori would return to third after two strikes.
In the first inning, Yoshida’s launched a two-strike pitch off the right-field wall for a single. In the third he hit it over Kori’s head into shallow left with two strikes. In the fifth that Yoshida lined a 1-0 changeup through the shift. I’m guessing from the way both Kaneko and Yoshida were smiling and laughing after his hit, neither of them are fans of the shift.
Yoshida didn’t get another crack at the shift after hurting his knee in left field making a good catch in the bottom of the sixth. He went back out in the sixth inning but eventually left to have it iced.
Fighters lefty Mizuki Hori and right-hander Bryan Rodriguez worked a 1-2-3 inning in relief before that lead evaporated in the eighth.
Eagles 8, Lions 4
At Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park, Seibu’s Katsunori Hirai (3-1) suffered his first setback in his move from bullpen workhorse to rotation starter, surrendering seven runs over 5-1/3 innings as the Lions lost their sixth straight decision.
Rakuten rookie Takahisa Hayakawa (3-2) gave up three runs over six innings on six hits and a walk while striking out seven. The bottom two hitters in the Eagles’ lineup reached base five times and scored five runs, while No. 2 hitter Hiroto Kobukata and No. 3 hitter Hiroaki Shimauchi combined to drive in six.
Cory Spangenberg had a hit and a walk for the Lions as he provides a much needed bat at second base with Shuta Tonosaki out hurt. Wu Nien-ting continued to play big with a single and a homer
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