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Giants’ Sakamoto hits winning homer in 9th

by Jason Coskrey

One swing of Hayato Sakamoto’s bat erased a week’s worth of bad memories for the Yomiuri Giants.

It left Hisashi Takeda reliving a nightmare from which he can’t seem to wake up.

With his team trailing by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, Sakamoto hit a game-winning, two-run homer to straightaway center as the Giants rallied to beat the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 7-6 on Friday at Tokyo Dome.

“I practiced hard all week and it paid off tonight,” Sakamoto said.

“When we got the tying run on base, I felt we had a big chance, and I just did not want to make an out.”

The homer represented the fourth sayonara hit of Sakamoto’s career.

“It’s a great feeling to end a game with a winning hit, especially a come-from-behind home run like that,” Sakamoto said.

The Giants had rallied from 6-3 down to make the score 6-5 heading into the ninth.

Takeda (0-4) was on the mound for the Fighters, nearly half a year removed from giving up the game-tying and game-winning homers at the Big Egg during Game 5 of last season’s Japan Series.

He hasn’t been the same since and lost his job as the team’s primary closer earlier this season after a string of bad outings.

Takeda struck out Ryota Wakiya to start the ninth on Friday, but hit Lee Seung Yeop, pinch hitting for pitcher Tetsuya Yamaguchi. Lee was lifted for a pinch runner, who represented the tying run.

“We were only one run behind, and it was good when Lee got on base,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “That gave us a real chance to at least tie the game.”

With Takahiro Suzuki running for Lee at first, Sakamoto homered to the deepest part of the stadium, igniting a celebration among most of the 43,332 in attendance.

“It’s the first time in my career as a pro to hit a home run to straightaway center field like that,” Sakamoto said.

The win helps the Giants avoid a three-game losing streak, and helps erase the bitter taste of the two-game man-handling they received from the Chiba Lotte Marines earlier this week.

“We lost bad to Lotte in Chiba those two games,” Sakamoto said. “But our home fans were behind us here tonight and that helped us break the losing streak.”

Six of Yomiuri’s seven runs were from home runs, with Shinnosuke Abe going deep twice and Yoshinobu Takahashi, Michihiro Ogasawara and Sakamoto also clearing the fences. Yomiuri pinch hitter Masakuni Odajima singled in a run in the sixth to account for the Giants’ other score.

Nippon Ham’s Atsunori Inaba hit a solo shot in the first inning, and Yoshio Itoi had a two-run blast in the fifth.

The Fighters had raced out to a 6-3 lead by the fifth against former teammate Shugo Fujii, before being shut down by relievers Yuya Kubo, Kiyoshi Toyoda and Yamaguchi.

The trio combined to throw four scoreless innings, with Yamaguchi (3-2) striking out two over two innings to win in relief.

Tigers tame Buffs

NISHINOMIYA , Hyogo Pref. (Kyodo) Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi threw seven shutout innings and helped his own cause with an RBI single and Takashi Toritani drove in two runs as the Hanshin Tigers beat the Orix Buffaloes 6-2 on Friday at Koshien Stadium.

Kenji Johjima went 3-for-4 with an RBI for the Tigers.

Swallows 12, Lions 6

At Jingu Stadium, Norichika Aoki and Aaron Guiel drove in eight runs between them, helping power Tokyo Yakult over Saitama Seibu.

Aoki opened the scoring with an RBI double in the third inning and added an RBI single in a five-run fifth, which was capped by Guiel’s three-run homer off Kazuyuki Hoashi (6-4). Guiel, who went 3-for-5 with five RBIs, tacked on a two-run double in a six-run eighth.

Yakult won at its home stadium for the first time since May 1. Tony Barnette (3-4) pitched one-run ball over 5 2/3 innings, striking out six while walking two.

Eagles 12, BayStars 0

At Yokohama Stadium, Ryohei Isaka combined with three relievers on a five-hit shutout, Teppei Tsuchiya homered and drove in three runs and Tohoku Rakuten matched a season high with a 19-hit onslaught against Yokohama.

Tsuchiya and Norihiro Nakamura had back-to-back homers leading off a five-run third inning against Futoshi Kobayashi (0-2) that made it 6-0. The Eagles’ Motohiro Shima went 4-for-4 with a two-run blast and Takeshi Yamasaki added a solo shot.

Isaka (1-0), making his first start of the season, allowed four hits in six shutout innings.

Yokohama has lost six of its last seven games and is 10 games below .500.

Carp 5, Hawks 4

At Mazda Stadium, Takuro Ishii had a two-run, go-ahead single and Hiroshima starter Eric Stults contributed with his bat with a two-run double as the Carp edged Fukuoka Softbank to move into fourth place in the CL standings.

Ishii singled with two outs in the fourth inning to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. After an intentional walk issued to Yoshiyuki Ishihara, Stults stretched the lead to 5-2 with his double to deep center.

Stults (3-3) yielded four runs in 6 2/3 innings, striking out two and walking four. Hideaki Takahashi (2-1), making his first start since May 5, lasted just 3 2/3 innings.

Dragons 5, Marines 4 (11)

Tony Blanco singled in the game-ending run with two outs in the 11th inning as Chunichi snapped Lotte’s winning streak at four games.

Masahiro Araki singled with one out before scoring on Blanco’s single to left off Hiroyuki Kobayashi (1-1). Masafumi Hirai (1-1) won in relief.

Kazuhiro Wada hit a game-tying, three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to force the game into extra innings.