Baseball: Tanaka is strong as the Eagles scrape past Fighters

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Masahiro Tanaka of the Rakuten Eagles plays against the Nippon Ham Fighters in their Pacific League game at the Sapporo Dome on May 3, 2022. (kyodo)

SAPPORO (Kyodo) — Masahiro Tanaka played eight scoreless innings to win a pitcher duel as the Pacific League leaders Rakuten Eagles defeated the Nippon Ham Fighters 2-1 on Tuesday afternoon.

Tanaka (3-1) localized his fastball and slider well as he hit six and walked two while conceding four hits to surpass Fighter’s southpaw Takayuki Kato (2-2) at the Sapporo Dome.

“The team is playing well and I’m glad we won our first game of the week,” said Tanaka.

Tanaka, who hails from Hyogo Prefecture in western Japan but rose to national prominence as a high school ball pitcher in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, recorded his 1,500 in the first inning. Innings in Nippon Professional Baseball.

“I think it was fate that allowed me to reach this milestone in Hokkaido,” Tanaka said. “It’s been a while since I hit the ground running here. But I have so many good memories of Hokkaido and this stadium.

The Eagles, who had just six hits, hit both runs in the second as Kazuki Tanaka followed Daichi Suzuki’s one-out single with his first home run of the season.

“I knew it was going to be tough to play against such a great pitcher today,” Kato said. “I missed badly with a slider and that was the ball game.”

At least, that’s what it seemed in the ninth inning as Eagles closer Yuki Matsui smashed the first two batters he faced.

The left-hander then made things interesting when he started falling behind batsmen. Matsui issued a two-out walk and gave up a Kensuke Kondo RBI double. Two more walks loaded the bases before Arismendy slammed Alcantara and Matsui secured his eighth save.

Elsewhere, the Seibu Lions beat the Lotte Marines 4-2, while Yuki Yanagita’s Grand Slam led the SoftBank Hawks to a 7-3 win over the Orix Buffaloes.

In the Central League, Yakult Swallows right-hander Yasuhiro Ogawa (1-2) scored a 3-0 shutout to end the Hanshin Tigers’ six-game winning streak while the Hiroshima Carp defeated league leaders Yomiuri Giants 12-3 and the Chunichi Dragons beat the DeNA BayStars 7-3.

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