Baseball: Nakamura birthday bash lifts Lotte's Sasaki to victory

The Pacific League-leading Lotte Marines will head into interleague play on a winning note after Shogo Nakamura homered on his 31st birthday to back six innings from ace Roki Sasaki in a 9-5 victory Sunday over the SoftBank Hawks.

The Marines, looking to win their first PL pennant since 2005, sent Sasaki (4-0) to PayPay Dome's mound with a 2-0 lead after Nakamura went deep with his third home run, off Koya Fujii (4-3).

Sasaki, pitching for the first time since raising a blister on his pitching hand against the Hawks on May 5, allowed two runs on three hits and a walk while striking out nine.

Nakamura, who reached base five times and scored three runs, singled in another run in the second, and Sasaki left with a 6-2 lead after Gregory Polanco's three-run home run in the seventh.

"It (the home run) felt good, and I'm happy to get it regardless of whether or not it was my birthday," Nakamura said.

Starting Tuesday, Nippon Professional Baseball's annual interleague session begins with each club playing a three-game series against each of the other league's six teams.

"The team is playing well now, and I'd like for us to keep up this current momentum in interleague," Nakamura said.

Elsewhere, the Seibu Lions knocked off the second-place Orix Buffaloes 3-2, while the last-place Rakuten Eagles beat the Nippon Ham Fighters in 12 innings by the same score.

In the Central League, the first-place Hanshin Tigers won their eighth straight, 4-1 over the Yomiuri Giants, while the two-time defending champion Yakult Swallows lost their 10th straight decision, falling 3-1 to the Hiroshima Carp.

The second-place DeNA BayStars, six games back of Hanshin, snapped a four-game skid with a 3-1 win over the Chunichi Dragons.

© Kyodo News