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Ogasawara wields big stick for surging Giants

by Jason Coskrey

The Yomiuri Giants and Tokyo Yakult Swallows aren’t far from each other in terms of location. The distance between the crosstown rivals in the Central League standings, however, just got a little bit wider.

Michihiro Ogasawara homered and drove in two runs and Tetsuya Yamaguchi saved the day out of the bullpen to help the Giants hang on to a 3-2 victory on Tuesday at Jingu Stadium.

“This is just one game,” Ogasawara said. “But it’s good we were able to win.”

The win gives the third-place Giants a little more breathing room in the race to reach the CL Climax Series. Yomiuri, once comfortably atop the standings, extended its lead over fourth-place Yakult to 6 1/2 games.

“At this time of the year, every game is so important,” Yomiuri slugger Alex Ramirez said. “You can’t say, ‘This game is more important than this game.’ Every game is so important.”

Yomiuri picked up its fourth straight win and has won five of its last six.

Ogasawara finished 3-for-3, hitting his 33rd home run of the season in the fifth inning. He drove in the game’s first run in the third, when he unsuccessfully attempted a check swing and fortunately ended up connecting on a RBI single.

Hayato Sakamoto, Tetsuya Matsumoto, Yoshitomo Tani and Ramirez also collected hits for the Giants, who finished with seven overall. Catcher Shinnosuke Abe drew a bases-loaded walk in the third and was credited with an RBI.

Yomiuri starter Hideki Asai (3-1) threw six innings of one-run ball, allowing four hits and striking out seven.

“I was just following Abe-san’s lead,” Asai said.

Giants reliever Yuya Kubo took the mound in the seventh and pitched two scoreless innings to set the stage for closer Marc Kroon in the ninth.

Swallows slugger Josh Whitesell led off the inning with a double and pinch runner Yoshiyuki Noguchi advanced to third on a wild pitch. The Swallows then pulled within a run on an RBI groundout by Kazuhiro Hatakeyama.

Kroon went on to walk two batters before being relieved by Yamaguchi.

The southpaw retired pinch hitter Jamie D’Antona to end the game and record his fourth save of the season.

Kosuke Matsui (0-1) got the start for the Swallows and gave up a pair of runs on five hits in 2 2/3 innings.

The teams resume their three-game set on Wednesday at Jingu Stadium. The Swallows will be looking to stay in the playoff hunt, while Yomiuri has its sights set on pulling away.

“We cannot say we want to win the next two games here,” Ramirez said. “We have to win tomorrow. Tomorrow is the most important game now.”

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Visit The Japan Times’ website for a recap of Tuesday’s other Nippon Professional Baseball games.