Hitoshi Tamura drove in a pair of runs and Nobuhiko Matsunaka hit his first home run of the season Thursday as the Softbank Hawks topped the Orix Buffaloes 5-1 at Yahoo Dome in Fukuoka.
The win averted a series sweep for the home club after the Hawks had lost their last three games, including the last two to Orix.
Rick Guttormson (1-1) got the win for Sadaharu Oh's club, giving up one run on six hits through 7 1/3 innings. The California native struck out four, walked two and was called for a balk. Relievers C.J. Nitkowski and Yuuki Kume held the Buffs to three hits the rest of the way.
"It was a team effort all around," said Guttormson. "We got some great defense, I made some pitches and things just went our way."
With several injuries to start the season, Guttormson had been used in the closer's role. On Thursday, he was glad to be back in the starting rotation.
"It's exciting to be back in the rotation and get the win," he said.
Orix starter Chihiro Kaneko (1-2) was saddled with the loss. He allowed three runs on nine hits through seven innings.
After Munenori Kawasaki and Tadaatsu Nakazawa hit back-to-back singles through the right side of the infield in the bottom of the third inning, both just out of the reach of Orix second baseman Kuniyuki Kimoto, Tamura launched a sacrifice fly to center field to score Kawasaki from third and put the Hawks up 1-0.
In the fourth, Guttormson hit Greg LaRocca with a pitch and he moved to second on a single by Alex Cabrera. Mitsutaka Goto then smoked a shot to deep right that hit the top of the fence for an RBI double, his second two-bagger of the night.
The following frame, the Hawks picked up two more runs on an RBI double to right by Nakazawa and a run-scoring single off the bat of Tamura.
Guttormson dodged a bullet in the sixth. After walking the leadoff batter, he appeared to get LaRocca to ground into a 6-4-3 double play. Guttormson was called for a balk, however, and instead of none on and two out there was none out and a man on second. LaRocca eventually struck out and Tuffy Rhodes was walked before Makoto Shiozaki hit a groundball that bounced off first base for a single to load the bases.
Guttormson got Goto on a flyball to center that was too shallow to score a run and then right fielder Hiroshi Shibahara played hero, making a running, twisting catch on a ball hit over is head that would have scored at least two runs.
"We got some good defense and Shibahara made a great play to keep us in the game," said an appreciative Guttormson.
Matsunaka homered to right off reliever Makoto Yoshino to lead off the eighth inning and Shotaro Ide drove in the fifth run later in the inning.
Nobuhiro Matsuda was 3-for-4 for Softbank at the plate with a double and a stolen base.
(IHT/Asahi: April 11,2008)