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Hot-hitting Giants win ninth in a row

by Jason Coskrey

The Hanshin Tigers’ 76 wins this season suggest the Osaka club is the best team in the Central League.

What the Yomiuri Giants did to them Saturday night suggests otherwise.

Yomiuri battered Hanshin starter Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi, Tetsuya Utsumi held the Tigers’ offense in check, and the Giants rolled to a 9-1 win at Tokyo Dome.

Yomiuri extended its longest winning streak of the season to nine games with the victory. Furthermore, it’s the first time in 16 years the team has won nine straight.

“We’re thinking about nothing but winning and going for the championship,” Utsumi said after the game.

Alex Ramirez and Lee Seung Yeop homered on consecutive pitches in the first, Michihiro Ogasawara went deep in the second and Shinnosuke Abe, who finished 3-for-4 with three RBIs, homered in the fourth to lead the Giants to within a game of the first-place Tigers.

“It was Utsumi’s pitching and our cleanup batters who deserve the credit for today’s victory,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.

“Tomorrow will be a very interesting and exciting game.”

Yomiuri, which has not been in first place this season, would move into a virtual tie with Hanshin atop the standings with a win in Sunday’s series finale.

“We’re still second and we expect a tough game tomorrow,” Abe said. “But with the support of the fans and a solid effort by all the players on our team, we can win and tie for first place.”

Utsumi (10-8) threw eight innings of one-run ball to win for the first time since Aug. 26. He struck out five, walked two and hit a batter.

“I did not get off to a good start,” Utsumi said, referring to a bases-loaded jam in the first. “But after my team got those seven runs in the first two innings, I was able to relax, get into a rhythm and pitch a normal game.”

Despite the big win there were a few tense moments for the home team in the third. Giants second baseman Takuya Kimura was hit in the head with a pitch by Kenta Abe and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher.

Shimoyanagi (11-6) lasted just 1 2/3 innings, taking the loss after allowing seven runs on nine hits.

Ramirez put the Giants ahead early, ripping a three-run homer to center in the first. Lee hit a towering shot to right on the next pitch.

The Tigers scored a run on Keiichi Hirano’s groundout in the second to make it 4-1.

The Giants countered in the bottom half with Ogasawara’s two-run homer and an RBI single by Abe to stretch the lead to six runs.

Abe drove in two more runs in the fourth with a home run to right which ended the scoring with the Giants leading 9-1.

Carp rout Dragons

HIROSHIMA (Kyodo) Alex Ochoa went 3-for-4 with a homer and five RBIs and Kenta Maeda pitched his first career shutout Saturday, leading the Hiroshima Carp to a 10-0 rout of the Chunichi Dragons.

Swallows 4, BayStars 1

At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Norichika Aoki and Keizo Kawashima hit back-to-back RBI singles in the second inning and Ryo Kawashima threw 5 2/3 effective innings as Yakult won its third straight game and handed Yokohama its sixth loss in a row.

PACIFIC LEAGUE

Lions 1, Hawks 0 (10)

At Fukuoka’s Yahoo Dome, Toru Hosokawa broke a scoreless deadlock with a solo homer in the top of the 10th inning as Seibu edged Softbank to become the first team in Japanese baseball to clinch a spot in the postseason Climax Series.

Hosokawa took a 1-2 forkball from Tsuyoshi Wada (8-6) over the center-field wall after the Hawks squandered a bases-loaded opportunity in the ninth, allowing the Lions to secure a finish in the top half of the Pacific League and reduce their magic number to win the league title to four.

Buffaloes 6, Fighters 1

At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Tuffy Rhodes homered for the third straight game and Shogo Yamamoto reached double-digit wins for the first time in his career to help Orix beat Hokkaido Nippon Ham and move closer to a postseason spot.

Marines 4, Eagles 1

At Chiba Marine Stadium, Julio Zuleta capped a four-run first with a two-run homer and Yoshihisa Naruse threw seven innings of one-run ball as Chiba Lotte beat Tohoku Rakuten to take sole possession of third place.