Teppei Tsuchiya drove in a pair of runs and made a big defensive play late in the game Tuesday as the Rakuten Golden Eagles edged the Softbank Hawks 4-3 in Pacific League action at Sendai's Kleenex Stadium Miyagi.
Veteran Takeshi Yamasaki scored three runs for Rakuten, who had been 0-3 against Sadaharu Oh's men this season, and starter Hideki Asai improved to 3-2, allowing two runs on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings. He whiffed six and walked a pair.
Three relievers held the fort before closer Koji Aoyama struck out the side in the ninth to pick up his third save.
Right-hander Jeremy Powell (1-1) took the loss for Softbank. Powell also went 6 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on six hits. He struck out two and walked four.
Powell got in trouble in the second inning. He gave up a leadoff single to Yamasaki and walked Koichi Isobe. Katsumi Yamashita then laid down a bunt that was fielded by Powell, but he bobbled the ball and had to rush his throw to first, which pulled Hiroki Kokubo off the bag and was not in time to get Yamashita.
With none out and the bases loaded, Tsuchiya then punched an RBI single through the infield to open the scoring and Isobe later scampered home on a groundout to first by Motohiro Shima to make it 2-0 for Rakuten.
There was some drama in the third inning when Powell's first pitch to Yamasaki appeared to graze the slugger's belt buckle. Yamasaki glared out at Powell, who gestured for him to bring it on as both benches emptied. Cooler heads eventually prevailed and Yamasaki would come around to score after a single by Isobe and an RBI single to right off the bat of Yamashita.
Softbank's Kokubo made it a one-run game an inning later when he slapped an Asai fastball over the fence in left-center for a two-run homer, his third of the season.
With reliever Shinsuke Ogura on the mound for Softbank and runners on second and third in the seventh inning, Tsuchiya beat out an infield single to drive in the fourth run for the Eagles.
In the top of the eighth, designated-hitter Nobuhiko Matsunaka crushed an offering from Rakuten reliever Kanehisa Arime into the right-field bleachers for a solo homer, getting the Hawks back within a run.
Later that inning, Tsuchiya made a diving catch on a ball hit to shallow center field with two out and a man aboard.
Yamasaki went 1-for-2 with a walk and was hit by a pitch to bump his average up to .392. Yamasaki hit 43 homers last year, the most in either league, and he has six already this season.
Rakuten improved its record to 12-13 with the win, while the Hawks fell to 13-14 in a very tight Pacific League race.
Elsewhere, the Nippon-Ham Fighters clubbed the Orix Buffaloes 4-2 at Sapporo Dome, and Lotte downed the Seibu Lions 8-1 at Chiba Marine Stadium.
In the Central League, the Chunichi Dragons thumped the first-place Hanshin Tigers 8-0 at Nagoya Dome, and at Hiroshima Stadium, the Yakult Swallows defeated the Carp 8-1. The Yomiuri Giants beat the Yokohama BayStars 6-1 at Utsunomiya Kiyohara Stadium in Tochigi.
(IHT/Asahi: April 23,2008)