SAPPORO – Naoyuki Uwasawa allowed five hits over seven innings as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters knocked off the Pacific League-leading Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks 2-0 on Sunday.
Uwasawa (2-2) came up with some big pitches and the Fighters came up with three run-saving plays as three pitchers combined for a seven-hit shutout at Sapporo Dome.
The 23-year-old Uwasawa, who struck out five without issuing a walk, handed the Hawks three solid scoring chances but escape each time.
SoftBank, which was shut out for just the third time this season, dropped into second place, a half-game behind the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
“Early in the season when I was doing poorly, a lot of my trouble was walking guys, so I was conscious of throwing strikes,” said Uwasawa, who consistently challenged the Hawks’ powerful lineup.
Yuki Yanagita, the PL’s most dangerous hitter this season, twice had chances to drive in the game’s first run, but was turned away both times. Having homered in his previous three games, Yanagita struck out in the first with one out and a runner on third.
In the fourth, with Tomoki Takata on third after a leadoff triple, Yanagita drove a pitch far enough to left to bring the runner home. But a poor jump from Takata and a lightning strike on one hop from left fielder Go Matsumoto easily caught the runner at home.
“Go has had my back a lot this season, he hit a big homer behind me the other day (July 2),” Uwasawa said. “The fielders were playing with a great tempo, and that helped me establish a rhythm.”
Hawks starter Rick van den Hurk (7-4) was also in control, but a one-out walk in the fifth opened the door for the slumping Fighters. After a sacrifice, Haruki Nishikawa broke the ice with a two-out RBI single.
Yanagita finally reached base in the seventh, when his no-out double put runners on second and third, but Uwasawa worked out of the jam.
The pitcher fielded a liner back to the mound for the first out and popped up slugger Alfredo Despaigne on a good fastball before third baseman Brandon Laird ended the inning with a defensive gem. Fielding a chopper down the line, Laird unleashed a cannon to first to prevent an RBI infield single.
Another one-out walk by van den Hurk in the seventh led to Nippon Ham’s second run. Pinch runner Hiromi Oka stole second and then barreled home to score on Tomoya Ishikawa’s two-out single.
Fighters relievers Chris Martin and Hirotoshi Masui closed it out with one scoreless inning each, Masui working around two singles to record his 14th save.
Van den Hurk allowed four hits and three walks over seven innings to suffer the tough loss.
Eagles 5, Lions 4
At Sendai’s Kobo Park, Zelous Wheeler singled in two runs in the first and his two-run, third-inning home run tied the game as Tohoku Rakuten overturned a four-run deficit, moving past Seibu on Ginji Akaminai’s seventh-inning RBI single to reclaim the PL lead.
Buffaloes 4, Marines 0
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Brandon Dickson (7-5) struck out nine and two relievers completed a seven-hit shutout of Chiba Lotte.
Masataka Yoshida broke a scoreless tie with a two-run single in his season debut.
BayStars 7, Dragons 3
At Nagoya Dome, Jose Lopez hit his 19th home run and drove in four runs, while Masayuki Kuwahara also went deep among his three hits for the second straight game as Yokohama crushedChunichi.