With veteran slugger Tuffy Rhodes serving a one-game suspension for casting a dirty look at an umpire (yes, you read that correctly) someone had to pick up the slack for the Orix Buffaloes.
Enter Arihito Muramatsu.
Muramatsu drove in five runs Sunday afternoon, highlighted by a three-run, bases-clearing triple in a five-run seventh inning, to propel the Buffaloes to a convincing 11-3 victory over Lotte at Chiba Marine Stadium in a 27-hit slugfest.
Left-handed starter Shinya Nakayama (1-2) picked up his first win of the season, and the Buffs got solo homers from Keiji Obiki and Osamu Hamanaka as Terry Collins' club took two out of three in Chiba. Leadoff hitter Tomotaka Sakaguchi was 3-for-4 at the plate for Orix with a pair of walks, two runs scored and an RBI.
"With Tuffy not being here today, somebody had to step up, and he did," Buffaloes manager Collins said of Muramatsu, who is hitting .342 in his 18th season in the league. "He stepped up with big hits the whole game, and everybody else started to get it going also. It was just one of those days for us."
The Buffs out-hit Lotte 15-12 on the day.
Nakayama, who has also done time in the bullpen this season, gave Collins a quality start, just what he was looking for after the Buffaloes were forced to use six pitchers in Saturday's 12-7 loss to Lotte. The third-year lefty threw 99 pitches over 6 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on six hits while striking out three and walking two.
"(Nakayama) did a great job, saved us after yesterday's game with the bullpen," Collins said. "We were hoping he'd get us to the sixth or seventh inning and he did that and pitched very, very well.
"He had good command of his stuff. He had his breaking ball working today, had his split-finger working today and he threw them for strikes."
Relievers Kazuo Yamaguchi and Daisuke Kato finished up for Nakayama, limiting Lotte to one run on six hits the rest of the way.
Marines starter Naoyuki Shimizu (4-4) took the loss. He also lasted 6 1/3 frames, allowing six runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and three free passes.
Marines designated-hitter Julio Zuleta smacked an RBI single to right in the bottom of the first to score Akira Otsuka, who had drawn a walk from Nakayama earlier in the inning.
The Buffs got that run back in the third, when Obiki led off the inning with a solo homer to left-center. The next batter, Sakaguchi, tripled to right field, but he was left stranded when Shimizu struck out Muramatsu, got Hirotoshi Kitagawa to ground out to short and then struck out cleanup hitter Alex Cabrera on a check-swing called third strike.
After striking out Hamanaka to start off the seventh, things went south in a hurry for Shimizu. Back-to-back doubles by Mitsutaka Goto and Takeshi Hidaka put the Buffaloes up 2-1. A single by Obiki and a walk to Sakaguchi loaded the bases for Muramatsu, who hammered his three-run triple to right.
That was the end of Shimizu's afternoon and Lotte skipper Bobby Valentine brought in Katsuyuki Aihara to face Cabrera. The former home run king lofted a sacrifice fly to deep center to allow Muramatsu to trot home, capping the five-run inning.
The Marines got one back in their half of the seventh when Otsuka pulled an RBI double down the third-base line off reliever Yamaguchi. They could have made a bigger dent in the lead, but Yamaguchi got Zuleta to dribble out to second with two out and the bases loaded to end the inning.
A solo homer to left by Hamanaka off Aihara to lead off the eighth sparked a four-run outburst for Orix, which included a two-run flare double to left by Muramatsu off reliever Koji Takagi.
Valentine used five men in relief of Shimizu. Otsuka was 3-for-4 with a couple of doubles and a walk for the Marines.
"We need these kinds of games once in a while to take a deep breath," said Collins of the lopsided score. "We've played some close games in the last month so it's nice to be able play a game where you can sit back and relax a little bit."
Orix won Friday's series opener 10-3. On Saturday, Toshiaki Imae drove in three runs as the Marines managed a 12-7 victory. In that game, Rhodes was ejected for giving the home plate umpire a nasty look after striking out in the ninth inning. It was the 13-year veteran's 13th career ejection in Japan, an NPB record, but likely his first where he didn't even open his mouth.
Orix improved to 20-27 with the win, still last in the PL standings but a step closer to the fifth-place Marines (21-27).