Hisanobu Watanabe shook up the Saitama Seibu lineup on Saturday and the team responded by snapping a four-game losing streak.
Hiroyuki Nakajima, batting fourth for the first time this season, drove in two runs, and the Lions beat the Chiba Lotte Marines 7-2. A loss at Chiba Marine Stadium would have dropped Seibu into second, behind Lotte on percentage points.
Nakajima's third-inning sacrifice fly off lefty Bill Murphy (6-2) made it 2-0 Seibu and his two-out solo homer in the fifth sparked an attack from the Lions that proved fatal.
"That was my first [career] homer in the No. 4 spot," Nakajima said. "Before the game, the skipper said 'Ganbare [go get 'em] No. 4.' Between the sac fly and the home run, I did my job."
The Lions drew first blood on a second-inning sacrifice fly by Tomoaki Sato. Hisashi Takayama drew a leadoff walk and went to third on a single by Hiroshi Hirao.
Kazuyuki Hoashi (8-6), allowed two runs in 7-1/3 innings. Hoashi has struggled since having a five-game winning streak snapped on May 22, but he was in command against the Marines, beating them for the first time this season.
The lefty groundball specialist surrendered 11 hits and two walks, but three double plays helped ease the pain.
"He hasn't been able to overcome adversity in his recent starts," manager Watanabe said. "Today was an improvement.
"When you're going bad, there's nothing like scoring first, and we accomplished that. It's been a while since we've played such a good game."
On the heels of a 7-1 whipping in Chiba on Friday night, Watanabe pushed No. 2 hitter Takumi Kuriyama into the third spot, freeing Nakajima to bat fourth.
"We had to do something to turn things around," he said. "Nakajima is the most reliable hitter on the team. Putting him fourth is no problem.
"Kuriyama is capable of holding down the third spot, so that made it all work."
Kuriyama drew a couple of walks but also hit into a double play in the fifth as Murphy continued to keep the game close. A high 1-1 fastball to Nakajima, however, proved his undoing.
"At this park, because of the wind, you never know a ball's gone until it clears the fence, but it was a good swing," the right-handed hitter said of his 12th homer of the year and his first to left field.
Watanabe could not have planned it any better.
"Nothing can make an impact like a home run can," the skipper said. "That energized us."
Takayama followed by tattooing the southpaw's next pitch off the wall in center for a double. Dee Brown, dropped into the No. 6 slot, then hammered a high 3-2 curve into the right-field stands for his 17th homer.
Hirao hit Murphy's next pitch into the stands in left for his second homer.
The Marines scored in the bottom of the inning, Tadahito Iguchi's flair falling for an RBI single. The Lions, however, restored their advantage in the sixth.
Yasuyuki Kataoka, who had singled and scored in the third, drew a one-out walk from Akichika Yamada and scored on a wild pitch.
The Marines knocked Hoashi out in the eighth. Iguchi drew a one-out walk, went to third on Kim Tae Kyun's third single and scored on a single by Shoitsu Omatsu.
The Marines came within inches of adding three more runs in the inning, when Lions catcher Kosuke Noda dropped a two-out, bases-loaded fly.
Noda, starting in place of regular Toru Hosokawa as part of the shakeup, waited for the ball in fair territory as the Marines circled the bags. But the wind, which prevented a catch, also blew the ball foul, and Shuichi Osada struck out Naoki Matoba swinging on a 3-2 pitch out of the zone.
Right-hander Taiyo Fujita pitched the ninth as the Marines fell two games off the PL pace.
In Sendai, PL ERA leader Yu Darvish struck out 10 in a five-hitter as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters beat the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 2-1.
Yoshio Itoi and Tomochika Tsuboi had back-to-back, two-out RBI singles in the first against Satoshi Nagai (4-6), who went eight innings in a tough loss.
Darvish (8-4) walked two and dropped his ERA to 1.46.
The PL's other game, between Orix and SoftBank in Fukuoka, was played later Saturday evening.
In the Central League, Saturday's game between the Yokohama BayStars and the Carp in Hiroshima was rained out. On Friday, the Carp took the series opener 2-1 on Yoshiyuki Ishihara's tie-breaking RBI double, the hosts' only hit of the night.
The game between the Hanshin Tigers and the CL-leading Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome and Tokyo Yakult's game against Chunichi at Akita were both played later Saturday.