Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe wanted a big game from Kazuyuki Hoashi on Sunday, and the side-armer delivered.
Hoashi and batterymate Toru Hosokawa stared down the Chunichi Dragons at Seibu Dome, where the Saitama Seibu Lions won 10-3 to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season.
The Lions entered with their seventh two-game skid of the year, but Hoashi (6-0) went six innings and Hosokawa drove in five runs to boost the Pacific League leaders to split their interleague series with the second-place Dragons.
"My form wasn't all that good today. I put runners on, but Hosokawa lead the way and got me out of it," said Hoashi, who allowed a run on five hits and three walks against a Dragons order with former Lions star Kazuhiro Wada batting cleanup.
"It was scary to face him," Hoashi said. "But overall, our lineup is scarier than theirs."
The No. 8 spot in the Lions order certainly was on Sunday, as Hosokawa put the game out of reach with a three-run homer in the fourth and singled in two more in the fifth.
"When you get to the eighth and ninth spots in the order, as a pitcher you really want to ease up," said Watanabe, a former pitcher. "We have these clutch hitters down there. As a pitcher you really hate that."
Hosokawa, who is suffering from a stiff back and has a stitched-up right thumb, got hold of a Kenichi Nakata fastball for his eighth home run of the year. The regular No. 9 hitter Hiram Bocachica, who sat out Sunday, has 11.
With the Lions leading 2-0 with two outs in the fourth, Hosokawa saw three fastballs from Nakata (4-4). He swung at the first one in the zone and lined the low pitch over the left-field fence.
"With that count I wasn't going to get cheated on my swing, and somehow it jumped off my bat," said Hosokawa, who was barely out of the box before he started pumping his fist. "My son and daughter came, and they always bug me to do something like that, so I figured it was as good a time as any."
Nakata's command was more tenuous than normal and it eventually caught up with him. The high-powered forkballer stayed out of the zone early and prospered, but when the Lions made Nakata throw strikes, they knocked him out.
The right-hander ignited a five-run fourth with two no-out walks. With two on, he hung a slider to cleanup hitter Craig Brazell, who singled to load the bases.
Two pitches out of the zone got one out, but a belt-high forkball to Takeya Nakamura resulted in a two-run single and a Seibu lead. The throw home was in time to nail the second runner, but catcher Masatoshi Ogawa fumbled the ball. With two outs, Hosokawa's homer made it 5-0, and Nakata left after four innings.
"We knew what to expect from Nakata and we were confident," said Lions batting coach Hiromoto Okubo. "The wild card was the Dragons' pitching plan. Had [banged-up regular Motonobu] Tanishige been behind the plate, he would have changed something the second time through our lineup.
"Instead, they stuck with the same approach, and we were able to lay off the low forkballs and attack his high breaking stuff and fastballs."
The Lions added five more runs in the fifth off lefty Susumu Kawai, although four were unearned.
A walk and two singles made it 6-0. When third baseman Thomas De La Rosa failed to handle a smash for an error, another run scored. With two outs and runners on second and third, Hosokawa bounced one past the pitcher.
Two runners scored as Ogawa once more dropped a timely throw. Two more singles made it 10-0, and the Dragons only managed to scratch away at that lead.
Watanabe got what he wanted from Hoashi.
"I think he felt the pressure of not losing again, and maybe that was good," Watanabe said. "He put a couple of runners on in the first inning, but really showed his experience.
"In the past he might have caved in more easily in that situation. Instead he stopped them until we scored. He has become a guy I really want to throw into a tough situation."