Shinichiro Koyama worked 3-2/2 scoreless innings after Rakuten starter Darrell Rasner left in the first inning with an injury and the Eagles came away with a 5-1 victory over the Chiba Lotte Marines before 26,210 at QVC Marine Field.
It was the longest outing for Koyama (1-0) in three years, and he said while the early call to the pen caught him by surprise, it didn't catch him unprepared.
"I had just eaten lunch and probably hadn't digested much of it," joked the 15th-year righty. "But that gave me the energy I needed," said Koyama, who held the Marines scoreless on two hits with no walks and four strikeouts.
"This [long relief] is my role with the team, so I had done what I was supposed to do to be ready. I haven't been able to contribute to the team at all, but I hope I can start helping out more."
Three more relievers followed with scoreless efforts for the Eagles. Koji Aoyama allowed two hits and fanned three over three innings, rookie Manabu Mima wriggled out of a two-on, one-out jam in the eighth and Romulo Sanchez shut the door with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The Eagles needed something to get them out of a funk that saw them get shut out in five of 11 games coming in, and ineffective submariner Shunsuke Watanabe was the answer.
Rakuten collected its first RBI hit in 68 innings--all its recent scoring had come via the solo homer--and sent nine men to the plate in a four-run second inning that gave it more than one in a game for the first time since May 5.
The Sub-Marine's pitches had no sink and Rakuten had little trouble putting the bat on them, chasing Watanabe (1-2) after 1-2/2 innings. The righty allowed five runs on six hits and two walks with no strikeouts.
That caused Lotte skipper Norifumi Nishimura to direct most of his postgame criticism toward his starter.
"In particular, that second inning wasn't very good," Nishimura said of Watanabe. "The lineup has to produce runs, but he's a veteran and he has to do a better job of pitching.
"He's the oldest pitcher we have, so he has to set an example for the others."
Said the 34-year-old Watanabe: "I just apologize to the team and to the fans."
Rasner left the game suddenly in the first inning, with what the team reported as an injury to his upper right leg that has nagged him since his last start on May 7.
Takeshi Yamasaki had two hits and drove in three for Rakuten. His first hit came on a roller for an RBI single in the first, but the Eagles really got their bats going against the soft-tossing Watanabe in the second.
Masato Nakamura drew a walk to open the frame and Daisuke Kusano followed with a single to right. After a sacrifice bunt, Fuminori Yokogawa slapped a single to center to make it 2-0 Rakuten.
Ryo Hijirisawa plated another with a single to left and two batters later, Yamasaki stroked a single down the left-field line to push across two for a 5-1 lead and the end of Watanabe's day.
Elsewhere in the PL, Yoshio Itoi went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer, and Makoto Kaneko had three hits and three RBIs as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters pounded the Orix Buffaloes 9-1 at Hakodate, Hokkaido.
At Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome, Kazuyuki Hoashi (3-1) limited the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks to one run on eight hits and a walk over 6-1/3 innings, and Hideto Asamura cracked his second homer--a two-run shot in the second--as the Saitama Seibu Lions won 3-1.
Asamura also had an RBI single in the eighth to pad the lead.
At Mazda Stadium, Hayato Sakamoto singled in a run in the third and launched a two-run homer in the fifth that proved to be the difference as the Yomiuri Giants edged the Hiroshima Carp 4-3.
Seth Greisinger (1-1) worked five innings, surrendering two runs on three hits and a walk with one strikeout to earn his first win since Sept. 10.
First-year import Jonathon Albaladejo fanned two to nail down the victory with a perfect ninth for his first save.
At Koshien, replacement Hiroki Uemoto, who took over after Takashi Toritani was injured in the first inning, broke a tie with a fifth-inning double and the Hanshin Tigers avoided a sweep by edging the Chunichi Dragons 3-1.
At Yokohama Stadium, Shinya Miyamoto's RBI single in the sixth broke a tie and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows added a run before holding off the Yokohama BayStars 5-3.