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Giants muscle in on Tigers’ lead

Lee sparks scoring flurry as Yomiuri sweeps Hanshin for share of first place in Central League

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The Hanshin Tigers have spent virtually the entire season alone in first place in the Central League

Thanks to the Yomiuri Giants, things just got a little more crowded at the top.

Lee Seung Yeop sparked an eight-run fifth with a leadoff double, then hit a towering three-run home run into the second deck at Tokyo Dome later in the inning as the Giants muscled their way into a tie for first place with a 9-5 win over the Tigers in front of 46,731 fans on Sunday.

“I’m happy I could start that rally,” Lee said. “I hope to contribute something each game until the end of the season.”

Shinnosuke Abe also homered for the Kyojin, who outscored Hanshin 24-10 over the three-game sweep and claimed a share of the CL lead for the first time this season.

“We played all three of these games with a comfortable feeling,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “So I am not surprised we won them all.

“We are happy to be where we are but the season is not over. We have to keep our focus and continue to play well.”

The Giants have been the CL’s hottest team since July 8, when they were in third place and trailed the Tigers by 13 games. Yomiuri, currently on a 10-game winning streak, has gone 37-16 since.

“We played them one at a time with the feeling that each was a game we could not afford to lose,” Hara said.

The Tigers are 25-30 over the same period.

Giants center fielder Takahiro Suzuki had another big game, putting the Kyojin ahead with a two-run double in the fifth on a 2-for-4 night.

“I was looking for something good to hit on the first pitch and I got it,” Suzuki said, referring to the double. “At that point I knew we would win this game.”

Suzuki had a productive series for the Giants, despite not playing in Saturday’s game. In the two games he played, Suzuki was 4-for-8 with a home run and four RBIs.

“Our team mood is really good right now,” Suzuki said. “So I hope we can maintain the confidence for the remaining 14 games.”

Yomiuri’s Koji Uehara picked up the win despite giving up a pair of solo homers to Tomoaki Kanemoto. With the exception of the Hanshin veteran, Uehara (5-4) retired every batter he faced, striking out five over five innings.

Hanshin pitcher Minoru Iwata started strong, allowing only two baserunners through four innings. The game got away from him in the fifth during which he was charged with five runs — four earned. Iwata (9-9) struck out two, walked one and hit a batter in the loss.

The Tigers led 2-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth courtesy of Kanemoto’s two homers in the second and fourth innings.

Lee jump-started the bottom half for the Giants with a leadoff double, then advanced to third on Iwata’s wild pitch to Yoshitomo Tani. Lee scored on Tani’s single to left to cut the Hanshin lead in half.

Iwata struck out the next batter, Abe, but gave up a single to Hayato Sakamoto and hit pinch hitter Noriyoshi Omichi to load the bases. Suzuki took advantage of the situation with his go-ahead double to right-center.

Giants slugger Alex Ramirez added a two-run single later in the inning, and Lee’s three-run shot made the score 8-2 in the Giants’ favor.

Ramirez’s hit was the 1,338th of his career, breaking the CL record for most hits by a foreign player previously held by Wally Yonamine.

Abe stretched the lead to seven with a solo homer in the bottom of the sixth.

Hanshin leadoff batter Norihiro Akahoshi drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to left in the eighth, and Kentaro Sekimoto hit an RBI single up the middle in the next inning to pull the Tigers within five runs.

The Tigers scored another run on a one-out wild pitch by Daisuke Ochi to make the score 9-5. Ochi recovered to retire the next two batters and end the game.

Dragons roast Carp

HIROSHIMA (Kyodo) Masahiko Morino and Tyrone Woods hit back-to-back RBI doubles and Norihiro Nakamura chipped in with a two-run homer in the first as the fourth-place Chunichi Dragons snapped a three-game losing skid with a 4-2 win over the Hiroshima Carp on Sunday.

Kazuki Yoshimi (9-3) won his first decision since June 22, allowing two runs and nine hits in 6 1/3 innings. Hitoki Iwase picked up his 32nd save at Hiroshima Stadium.

BayStars at Swallows — ppd.

PACIFIC LEAGUE

Lions 10, Hawks 5

At Yahoo Dome, Akira Eto hit a two-run homer in the second inning and Takeya Nakamura put the game out of reach with a grand slam in the ninth Sunday as Seibu cut its magic number to win the Pacific League title to two.

Fighters 10, Buffaloes 5

At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Shinji Takahashi and Eiichi Koyano drove in three runs and had three hits apiece to lead a season-high 22-hit onslaught as Hokkaido Nippon Ham rallied to halt a four-game losing streak and avoid a setback in its hunt for a playoff berth.

Eagles at Marines — ppd.