The early season feel-good story of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles had the reigning Japan Series winners feeling a little bit snubbed.
But Chiba Lotte brushed that aside Thursday as Hayden Penn (1-0) worked eight strong innings and the Marines rallied late for a 5-2 comeback win over the Eagles in Pacific League action at QVC Marine Field.
Red-hot Tadahito Iguchi pushed home the go-ahead run with a seventh-inning bases-loaded sacrifice fly and Kim Tae Kyun plated two more with a single as Lotte picked up its first victory by avoiding a sweep to Rakuten in their season-opening series.
Penn induced a bevy of nubbers and tappers, and the defense behind him made enough plays to give Marines the win. The 27-year-old Penn, who was 1-3 in eight games after joining Lotte last July, was understanding about the hoopla over the Eagles.
"Well, their area is the main place where the earthquake hit, so it makes sense that they would be the focus," Penn said about Lotte taking a backseat in the sports dailies to Rakuten. "But we're all in this together," said Penn, who lives near the stadium and has dealt with damage in Chiba.
"Both teams have a lot on their minds, but we're all just going to try and do our best," said Kazuya Fukuura, whose two-run homer in the sixth got the Marines even.
Day games during the week figure to slow attendance, and only 8,561 were on hand to see Penn's second-longest outing and first home victory since joining Lotte.
He allowed two runs--one earned--on seven hits and two walks, while fanning three on 117 pitches.
Rakuten won't play at Kleenex Stadium Miyagi until April 29 but was looking right at home in Chiba after taking the first two games of the series. And the Eagles scrambled for a pair of runs in the first three innings, hitting the ball out of the infield just once in the process.
Ryo Hijirisawa on first base after a botched sacrifice forced the leadoff runner, stole second, went to third on an infield single and scored on a wild pitch for a 1-0 Rakuten lead.
The Eagles put their speed on display to double the spread in the third inning. Kazuo Matsui singled to center to open the frame and Hijirisawa laid down a sacrifice bunt toward Chiba third baseman Toshiaki Imae--who was cheating in. It looked like a routine play until Hijirisawa scampered to first ahead of the throw for a single.
With two on and none out, Teppei Tsuchiya rolled another bunt and Imae barehanded it cleanly. But an off-balance throw to first was wild, allowing Matsui to score and putting runners on second and third with no outs.
"It was partly my own fault, I wasn't communicating well with my third baseman on who would make the play," Penn said. "But who knows if he would have gotten them anyway, they were pretty good bunts."
Penn, though, got three groundouts to keep the damage to a minimum.
"There was good flow to the game and we scored our second run on their mistake," said Rakuten skipper Senichi Hoshino. "But we didn't knock them out when we had the chance."
The Marines didn't produce early on, with three hits through five innings against Koji Aoyama, who left after 5-2/2 and got no decision. They loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth inning against the righty, but failed to score.
They finally struck in the sixth. Iguchi, who was 2-for-2 with a walk to raise his average to .500, doubled to center and Fukuura smacked a high fastball into the seats in right for a 2-2 tie.
Yasuhiko Yabuta collected his first save since March 21 of last year with a perfect ninth. Rakuten's Hiroshi Katayama (0-1) took the loss, allowing three runs in one-third of an inning.
In the other afternoon game, Brett Harper went 3-for-4 with a homer and two doubles and Kentaro Takasaki tossed seven strong innings as host Yokohama downed Chunichi 7-1 to win its first opening series in 11 years.
Harper drove in two runs, and Terrmel Sledge added a solo blast--his fourth longball in two days--and a two-run double to back Takasaki (1-0), who held the reigning Central League champions to three hits and three walks, while fanning five.