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Sakamoto’s heroics carry Giants to win

by Jason Coskrey

Shortstop Hayato Sakamoto is becoming the Yomiuri Giants’ go-to guy late in games.

They sure needed him on Tuesday night.

Sakamoto saved the day with a diving stop in top of the 11th inning and hit a sayonara home run in the bottom of the 12th to lift the Giants to a 4-3 win over the BayStars at Tokyo Dome.

“Tonight’s game belongs to Sakamoto,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “Not only for his hitting but his fielding as well.”

Sakamoto’s homer was his third sayonara shot at the Big Egg this year.

“It feels so good to win a game like this in front of the home fans,” Sakamoto said.

Yomiuri moves into a virtual tie for second place in the CL standings with the win, benefiting from the first-place Chunichi Dragons beating the Hanshin Tigers earlier in the night. The Giants trail the Dragons by 2 1/2 games.

Yomiuri reliever Daisuke Ochi earned the win, while Yokohama’s Hiroki Sanada took the loss.

The score was tied 3-3 in the 11th, when Yokohama’s Shuichi Murata led off with a double against Marc Kroon. Two batters later, Tatsuya Shimozono connected on a ball that hit the front of the mound and bounced over Kroon’s head.

The ball was headed for the outfield as Murata prepared to round third, but a nifty play by Sakamoto kept the ball in the infield and left Murata standing at third. Kroon struck out the next batter to end the inning.

The game was still tied entering the bottom of the 12th, and BayStars reliever Hiroki Sanada retired Yoshitomo Tani for the first out.

Sakamoto followed with a shot to left that ended the game.

“It was a hard fought game,” Sakamoto said. “I hit the winning home run but the victory belongs to the whole team.”

Dragons in playoffs

NAGOYA (Kyodo) Chen Wei-yin baffled the Hanshin Tigers over eight shutout innings, helping the Chunichi Dragons secure a place in the Central League Climax Series with a 3-0 win Tuesday.

Chunichi became the first team from either league to reach the postseason.

In the opener of a crucial three-game series at Nagoya Dome, Chen (13-10) rolled to his 13th victory of the season, holding Hanshin to four hits and two walks in a 127-pitch effort as the Dragons moved 2 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Tigers.

“(Motonobu) Tanishige-san told me to believe in myself, just go out there and pitch my game,” Chen said of the veteran catcher, who did not play on this night. “I didn’t try to outsmart myself on the mound and it worked out well.”

Hitoki Iwase got one out in the ninth for his CL-leading 41st save.

Chunichi, which has five games left, was led at the plate by Kei Nomoto, who had two hits and drove in two runs. Kazuhiro Wada also had three hits for the Dragons.

Carp 5, Swallows 2

At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Kenta Kurihara homered twice for the second straight game, including the go-ahead solo shot in a three-run eighth inning, as Hiroshima edged Tokyo Yakult for its fifth straight win.

Hirofumi Ueno (1-2) pitched the eighth for his first victory in two years.

PACIFIC LEAGUE

Marines 12, Eagles 2

At Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium, Tsuyoshi Nishioka tied Ichiro Suzuki’s single season record for most three-hit games at 26 as Chiba Lotte pounded Tohoku Rakuten for 17 hits.

Nishioka, who had four hits the night before, had collected three hits by the fifth inning to match Ichiro’s record set by the Seattle Mariners superstar in 1996 when he was still with Orix.

Nishioka has 197 hits this year, and is on the verge of becoming the first PL player since Ichiro in 1994 to clear the 200 mark.

Fighters 4, Buffaloes 3

At Sapporo Dome, Yuji Iiyama went 4-for-4 and drove in two runs as Hokkaido Nippon Ham won for the second straight night.

Orix pulled within one with a two-run ninth, but closer Hisashi Takeda worked himself out of the jam to pick up his 18th save.