After providing Yoshihisa Naruse with half rations of runs in his first four starts, the Marines finally gave their young lefty a full measure of support on Sunday. He responded with his best game of the season.
Naruse went eight scoreless innings and Chiba Lotte exploded for five runs--including three home runs--in the sixth inning in a 6-0 shutout of the host Orix Buffaloes at Tokyo Dome.
The Marines came into the game having scored just five runs in 29-2/3 innings with Naruse was on the mound.
Shoitsu Omatsu continued his homer tear, stroking his team-leading fifth longball--a solo shot to spark the sixth-inning rally--and Tasuku Hashimoto and Toshiaki Imae also went deep in the inning as the Marines got back to the .500 mark in front of 23,147.
Naruse (3-1), who hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 19 innings, kept the Buffaloes at bay, scattering three hits and a walk, while collecting nine strikeouts.
"Of my starts this season, I think this was my best game," said the fifth-year starter, whose team had dropped its two previous contests.
"We were on a little losing streak, so I wanted to pitch well, and I'm happy I was able to do that," the 22-year-old hurler said.
Naruse got a pair of sparkling defensive plays behind him in the bottom of the fifth after the Marines had taken a 1-0 lead. With one out, All-Star shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka, back after missing six games, went deep in the hole to throw out Orix catcher Toshiya Tsuji.
Daisuke Hayakawa, who was acquired for Tsuji in a November 2006 trade with Orix, topped that effort by making a diving catch in left center for the third out.
"When you get plays like that behind you, it helps you get into a rhythm, and I was glad to see them. I've won two games in a row personally and I hope the team can get on roll now, too," Naruse said.
"He was very, very good, as he usually is, but he threw a more pitches  than he usually does and had to work much harder from the early innings on through the game," Lotte skipper Bobby Valentine said of Naruse. "But he's one of the best pitchers in the league, and we needed a win and he gave it to us."
Naruse, who last season led Japan in ERA, lowered his ERA to 1.35 and is on course to put up overall numbers similar to last year. Valentine said his top pitcher is gaining knowledge with every outing.
"He's working hard--no adjustments--just learning more about himself and learning more about the league every time out."
Loser Kazuki Kondo (2-2) has more to learn about toughness in a close game. He had only allowed one run to Lotte in seven innings this season, and was sharp through the first four.
Although Kondo has received better overall run support than Naruse, it has been less consistent: This was his third start in which the Buffs have scored a run or less behind him.
Kondo gave up a run in the fifth--on Imae's double a Shunichi Nemoto's triple past right fielder Osamu Hamanaka's glove--and things fell apart for the 24-year-old righty in the sixth.
Omatsu put a charge into a 3-2 pitch, sending it deep into the seats in right for a 2-0 Lotte lead, and Kondo suddenly couldn't get anyone out.
"It was probably a ball outside the strike zone, but I just tried to put a good swing on it," Omatsu said. "We had some momentum going and I wanted to keep it going."
Tomoya Satozaki followed with a double and cruised home on another two-bagger by Jose Ortiz. Hashimoto followed with his third homer of the year and Kondo was gone.
Eric Junge got the first batter he faced, but Imae belted his first longball of the season to make it 6-0 Lotte.
"Omatsu, Satozaki, Ortiz and Hashimoto all got all extra base hits in a row. It's a good confidence-builder for our club," Valentine said.