Eagles take small step in right direction with back-to-back victories over Fighters


The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are officially on a winning streak. It’s only two games, but it’s a start, and with the way the last few weeks have gone, the Eagles will gladly take it.

Carlos Peguero drove in two runs, Yuki Matsui recorded his 30th save of the season, and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles defeated the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 6-4 in front of a lively crowd of 39,495 that contained a sizeable contingent of Rakuten supporters.

The victory gave the Eagles a sweep of their two-game set against Nippon Ham. It’s the first time Rakuten has won two straight since beating the Orix Buffaloes on Aug. 12 and 13.

“It’s really good for us,” Peguero said. “The last couple of weeks have been tough and we’ve been losing a lot. So this is good, because it gives us confidence.”

The Eagles are trying to get back on track after slumping through a disastrous month. Even with Thursday’s victory, Rakuten is just 3-16-1 in its last 20 games.

“I think the mood is going to change now,” Peguero said. “We had a tough month and we started off bad in this one. But I think after these two wins, it’ll give us confidence. We just have to go from here and keep on winning.

Peguero was probably confident from the start on Thursday, as he entered the game having gone 6-for-14 against Fighters starter Kohei Arihara this season. He had another good game against the Nippon Ham right-hander, finishing 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs.

“I just try to make adjustments every day, every at-bat,” Peguero said. “I don’t take anything for granted. I know I’ve been doing good against him, but he’s a good pitcher. Any day, he can come and strike you out or make you chase pitches that you don’t want to swing at. I just try to stay positive and do my job.”

Hiroaki Shimauchi finished with a pair of hits and two RBIs, while Kazuya Fujita and Ginji Akaminai drove in one run apiece.

Yuya Kubo (3-1) threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings to earn the win in relief at the park he called home from 2003-2014 as a member of the Yomiuri Giants.

“I didn’t think it (the game’s hero) was me, I didn’t know why they were calling me,” Kubo said.

Matsui allowed a hit to Kensuke Tanaka in the ninth, but closed out the game to record his third straight season of at least 30 saves.

“I would like to see him get to 40 saves now,” manager Masataka Nashida said.

For the Fighters, two-way star Shohei Otani finished 1-for-2 with a pair of walks as scouts from a handful of MLB teams watched from the stands. Otani singled in his first at-bat and hit a line drive right to second baseman Fujita in his third trip.

Haruki Nishikawa had a productive night for Nippon Ham with a pair of RBI doubles and a single in five at-bats. Kengo Ota drove in a run with his first career home run and Go Matsumoto also put one on the board for the home team.

Arihara (7-12) was tagged with the loss after allowing six runs on 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

It didn’t take long for Rakuten to get to him.

Rakuten outfielder Louis Okoye legged out an infield single to begin the third and later stole second. He scored from second when Fujita lined a single over leaping shortstop Kazunari Ishii. After Ryo Hijirisawa drew a walk, Peguero drove in two more runs with a double to right. Akaminai then connected on an RBI hit to center to make it 4-0, Eagles.

The Fighters pulled a run back on their very next at-bat, as Ota led off the bottom half of the inning with his home run. Nippon Ham cut further into the lead when Nishikawa hit an RBI double to make the score 4-2.

The Eagles pushed the lead back to four in the fourth when Shimauchi hit a two-run double.

The Fighters cut it back down to two in the fifth. Tomoya Ichikawa and Ishii singled to begin the inning, and Nishikawa drove in a run with his second RBI double of the night. Matsumoto then hit a sacrifice fly to make it 6-4, but that was as close at it would get.

Kikuchi baffles Marines

Tokorozawa Saitama Pref. KYODO

Yusei Kikuchi allowed four hits and a walk, while striking out 10 over the distance as the Seibu Lions blanked the Chiba Lotte Marines 3-0 on Thursday in the Pacific League.

Hotaka Yamakawa and Shogo Akiyama homered for Seibu.

Kikuchi improved to 14-6.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Carp 6, Tigers 4

At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Tomohiro Abe was the hero again on Thursday, when Hiroshima lowered its magic number to clinch the CL pennant to eight with a come-from-behind triumph over Hanshin.

Abe, whose walk-off homer ended Tuesday’s series opener against the second-place Tigers, went 3-for-4 with a double and a tiebreaking, fifth-inning RBI triple for the defending league champions, who won their sixth straight game.

Before a crowd of 31,316 on a rainy night, Hanshin took a three-run, first-inning lead off lefty Kris Johnson. Although last year’s Sawamura Award winner only pitched four innings, he helped get a run back in the third, when he singled off Takumi Akiyama (12-5) and scored on Kosuke Tanaka’s sixth home run.

Akiyama took a 4-2 lead into the fifth, but was punished the third time through by the powerful Carp lineup. Tsubasa Aizawa, who delivered the walk-off single in Wednesday’s win, opened the inning with a pinch-hit double. With one out and runners on the corners, Yoshihiro Maru singled home Aizawa. Ryosuke Kikuchi hustled to third on the base hit to right, and scored on Ryuhei Matsuyama’s sac fly.

Abe tripled past center fielder Masahiro Nakatani, then scored on a Ryoma Nishikawa double.

“The top-of-the-order hitters made that inning, set the table for me, and I was just looking to keep the rally alive,” Abe said. “I received a considerable amount of power from our great supporters.”

After the Tigers scored four off Johnson in four innings, the Carp bullpen shut them down. Aren Kuri (7-5) worked two perfect innings to earn the victory, while Ryuji Ichioka, Takeru Imamura and Shota Nakazaki posted one scoreless inning apiece.

Tigers third baseman Takashi Toritani moved to within one hit of NPB’s cherished 2,000-hit milestone. He went 1-for-4 with a ninth-inning single.

Swallows 11, BayStars 1

At Yokohama Stadium, Preston Guilmet (1-1) threw seven shutout innings in his first start of the season, while Wladimir Balentien belted his 30th home run, a three-run, first-inning shot off Shota Imanaga (10-7), as Tokyo Yakult pounded Yokohama to snap a nine-game losing streak.

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