The Saitama Seibu Lions appear to be trying out a new closer, but their most reliable weapon helped seal the deal in Sunday's comeback win over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
No. 3 hitter Hiroyuki Nakajima belted a two-run double to turn a one-run deficit into a Lions' lead in the sixth inning, and three relievers got the final nine outs without allowing a base runner as Seibu edged Rakuten 5-4 at Seibu Dome.
But much of the postgame talk focused on rookie Kazuhisa Makita, who made quick work of the Eagles with a 1-2-3 ninth for his first pro save before 25,033.
Bullpen injuries and ineffectiveness forced the Lions to turn the ball over to the 26-year-old out of the corporate league, but Seibu is confident in the submariner.
"You have to put a guy back there who everyone agrees can get the job done," said Seibu manager Hisanobu Watanabe. "And where our pitching staff is right now, Makita's the one for the job.
"Closer is a difficult role, but he has the stuff to get the job done. I'm sure there's going to be some issues as we go forward because he's a rookie, but he'll learn as he goes," the skipper said of Makita, who was 2-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 10 starts this season.
Kazuhisa Ishii (3-3) became the only Lions starter other than Hideaki Wakui and Fumiya Nishiguchi to win a game this month. The veteran lefty gave up four runs--including a sixth-inning go-ahead two-run shot to Rakuten newcomer Luis Garcia--over six frames, but got bailed out when the Lions rallied for three in the bottom of the sixth.
Nakajima had three hits, none bigger than a two-bagger to the wall in right center with two out to cap the three-run rally.
"Everyone did a great job of setting up that situation, I just wanted to keep the rally going," Nakajima said. "I was able to focus on hitting when I got into the batter's box. It felt good off the bat."
Hsu Ming-chieh and recently acquired Hirotaka Egusa set up Makita, who admitted he was nervous.
"My legs were shaking out there on the mound," Makita said. "But I was confident I could get the job done if I made my pitches."
The Eagles looked confident after taking advantage of shoddy Seibu defense to score twice in the top of the third. With one out, Teppei Tsuchiya singled and with two outs Kazuo Matsui drew a walk before Randy Ruiz laced a single back through the box for a 1-0 Rakuten lead.
Daisuke Kusano sent a fly to right that rookie Masato Kumashiro started in on. He retreated in plenty of time to make the catch, but squeezed his glove before the ball arrived for a two-base error that allowed a run to score and Kusano to reach second.
Ishii worked out of that jam without further damage, and the Lions came back to even the score in the bottom of the frame. After Takumi Kuriyama's run-scoring double, the Eagles misplayed Jose Fernandez's popup into a single and Taketoshi Goto followed with a single for his first RBI of the season.
Elsewhere in the PL, Hiroki Kokubo had RBI singles in the first and second innings as the front-running SoftBank Hawks opened up a five-run lead before holding off the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 5-2 in a PL showdown at Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome.
Tadashi Settsu (7-3) fanned a career-high 12 over seven innings as the Hawks increased their lead over the second-place Fighters to two games.
At QVC Marine Field, Kazuya Fukuura's two-run double in the eighth was the difference as closer Yasuhiko Yabuta allowed two runs in the ninth before escaping with two on for his 11th save to help the Chiba Lotte Marines edge the Orix Buffaloes 3-2.
Orix starter Alfredo Figaro (5-3) allowed just one run over seven innings but had his five-game winning streak snapped.
In Central League action, pinch-hitter Tomonori Maeda slapped an RBI single to right in the eighth inning to break a scoreless tie, and the Hiroshima Carp held on to blank the Chunichi Dragons 2-0 at Mazda Stadium.
Carp skipper Kenjiro Nomura became the first manager to be ejected in Japan this season when he got the thumb in the third inning for making contact with an umpire while arguing a call at first base.
At Koshien Stadium, Alex Ramirez had a pair of RBI singles and Hirokazu Sawamura (4-5) worked seven shutout innings to carry the Yomiuri Giants past the Hanshin Tigers 4-2.
Hanshin starter Atsushi Nomi (3-6) saw his eight-game winning streak against the Giants snapped as Yomiuri touched him for three runs on six hits and four walks in six innings.
At Jingu Stadium, rookie right-hander Kota Suda (2-5) scattered four hits over a season-high six scoreless frames, and Hichori Morimoto doubled in two in the third to help the Yokohama BayStars trip up the CL front-running Tokyo Yakult Swallows 4-1.
Shun Yamaguchi worked a perfect ninth for his league-best-tying 15th save as the BayStars stopped a six-game losing streak to the Swallows.