On his 58th birthday, Chiba Lotte Marines skipper Bobby Valentine gave 18-year-old rookie Yuki Karakawa the ball.
And for four innings on Tuesday, the kid gave his manager the perfect gift--no base runners. It was the kind of pitching the team lacked while losing 10 of its last 12 coming in.
Nippon Ham's Atsunori Inaba broke up the idea of a no-hitter and a shutout with one swing, blasting a fifth-inning, leadoff home run, but Karakawa (3-0) gave Valentine a relatively stress-free 8-2 win over the host Fighters before 19,828 at Tokyo Dome.
Karakawa, a Chiba native, tossed eight sharp innings, allowing two runs on four hits and no walks, while fanning nine to win his third straight since his April 26 debut. He became the third pitcher in the draft era--and the first since Shinichi Kondo of Chunichi in 1987--to win his first three games.
A number of Lotte players said they wanted to win to help Valentine celebrate his birthday, but Karakawa's performance put a ribbon on it.
"Tomorrow's my birthday in the States, so it'll still be my birthday if they keep track that way," joked Valentine, who was also thrilled with Karakawa's competitiveness.
"He throws so many pitches for strikes and likes to gets ahead in the count," Valentine said of his prodigy.
"And I was really impressed after Inaba hit the home run off of him, the next time he came up--[Inaba] hit the home run on a changeup and the first pitch, he shook off the catcher because he wanted to throw another changeup. That showed me extreme confidence," said Valentine, who later added, "We didn't expect him to be this good this fast."
The bats also came alive for the Marines, who struck for five runs with two outs in the fifth inning.
Jose Ortiz was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs and Kazuya Fukuura went 2-for-4 with two RBIs to back Karakawa, who tired late.
"If you look at the end result, I pitched well. But if you look at the pitches that I gave up hits on, there are still some things I have to work on," Karakawa said, adding that he had no shot of going the distance.
"If I'd had the strength and the stuff to go out there in the ninth, I wanted to go, but I knew I didn't have either, so I didn't think about a complete game."
Fighters starter Ryan Glynn gave up an early longball to Daisuke Hayakawa--his first of the season--but retired five of the next seven before suffering a total meltdown in the fourth.
Glynn (1-6) got the first two batters before surrendering a single. Then his control left the building. The righty threw nine consecutive balls at one point, while walking three straight to force in a run.
Fukuura followed with a two-run single to make it 4-0, and Ortiz's two-run double was the knockout blow for Glynn, who has lost five of six decisions despite putting in a quality start.