The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks have straightened up and started to fly right.
Nobuhiko Matsunaka put on a power display, blasting two opposite-field home runs to finish with three hits and three RBIs, helping lift the Pacific League's third-place Hawks to a 7-2 win over the first-place Saitama Seibu Lions on Wednesday.
The Hawks ended their longest skid in nine years--seven-games--on Sunday, and finished off a sweep of a short two-game series with 15,674 on hand at Seibu Dome for their third straight victory.
"I didn't get the job done yesterday, so today I wanted to come out and work hard to get it done today," said Matsunaka, who went deep in the seventh and ninth innings when the game was very much in doubt.
"We can't afford to fall further behind Seibu and everyone wanted to win these two games," said the slugger, who upped his homer total to 16 and brought Fukuoka to within four games of the top spot.
Starter Rick Guttormson (4-4) cruised through most of his 6-2/3 innings to earn his first win since June 11.
The right-hander allowed two runs on five hits, two walks and a hit batter, while fanning four.
"I felt good today and I wanted to be aggressive and work inside," said Guttormson, who left with two runners on in the seventh.
"They're aggressive batters and I just tried to match up.
"They do have a lot of power and that's why I watched [Toshiya] Sugiuchi pitch yesterday, and he pitched them in a lot and kept them off balance.
"I think that's what you have to do to them, to these guys with all their power. You can't let them get their arms extended, they'll start hitting the ball out of the park."
The Lions only extended their losing streak. It reached three games, their second such skid of the season.
An error and two questionable efforts on catchable flies didn't make for a smooth run for the Lions, who fell behind in the first inning.
Lions ace Hideaki Wakui (7-7) got knocked around early, but pitched his way around Seibu's shoddy play in the field, fanning eight--with five consecutive outs at one point coming via the strikeout--to keep Seibu in the game after six innings.
The righty yielded nine hits and a walk, and one of the four runs he allowed was unearned.
The Hawks jumped on him from the get-go. Mitsuru Honda hit a popup that looked playable, but the three Lions failed to come up with it, and Munenori Kawasaki followed with a solid single up the middle.
Nobuhiro Matsuda drove in the first run, whacking a hard single to left. After a flyout, Michael Restovich got the first of his two RBIs singles, poking a ball into right for a 2-0 SoftBank lead.
The Lions got a run back on Yoshihito Ishii's clutch double to left-center field in the second inning, but Restovich made the Lions pay for an error on Yasuyuki Kataoka--who turned a double-play ball into no outs by juggling the ball--by singling to center for a 3-1 cushion.
Toru Hosokawa's two-out RBI double in the fourth shaved a run off the lead before Matsuda struck again, launching his ninth longball of the season to leadoff the fifth. Matsunaka's 15th of the season, a solo blast leading off the seventh, made it 5-2.
The Lions loaded the bases off Guttormson and C.J. Nitkowski in the seventh, but Yuki Kume got Hiroyuki Nakajima to hit a lazy fly to left to end the threat.
Matsunaka's two-run shot in the ninth closed out the scoring.