The Yomiuri Giants are so close to first place, they can smell it.
Shinnosuke Abe drove in two runs, Toshiya Sugiuchi earned his ninth win, and the Giants pulled within percentage points of the top spot in the Central League after a 4-2 win over the Chunichi Dragons on Saturday afternoon at Tokyo Dome.
“We have to win tomorrow and that will put us clearly in first place,” Sugiuchi said. “It was good I could help set up that possibility with today’s win.”
Sugiuchi (9-2) threw six innings, allowing a pair of runs on seven hits, while striking out seven and walking two. Relievers Tetsuya Yamaguchi and Kentaro Nishimura worked the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, and Scott Mathieson nailed down the win in the ninth for his third save.
“I wish I could’ve pitched past the sixth inning, but I know our bullpen is strong, and they did their job behind me, so I am happy,” Sugiuchi said.
Sugiuchi was perhaps fortunate the two-run double he gave up to Tony Blanco in the third inning didn’t do more damage.
“He made a couple of mistakes to me, but I missed them,” Blanco said. “I fouled them off. But he’s a good pitcher.”
The Giants beat the Dragons for the second time in as many games and will go for the series sweep on Sunday.
“It’s always a tough game when we’re playing the first-place team,” Sugiuchi said. “They are a strong team with great hitters.”
Sugiuchi has personally beaten Chunichi three straight times, dating back to Game 7 of last season’s Japan Series, when he was a member of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
Abe finished 1-for-3 with two RBIs to lead the Kyojin, who have won four straight. Edgar Gonzalez was 2-for-4 and also drove in a run.
Dragons starter Takashi Ogasawara gave up four runs — two earned — in the first inning, but settled down to hold Yomiuri scoreless over the next five. Ogasawara (0-2) allowed seven hits, struck out four and walked one in his six innings on the mound.
Blanco went 1-for-4 and drove in the Dragons’ only runs. Yohei Oshima finished 2-for-4 and was the only Chunichi player with a multi-hit game.
Yomiuri didn’t waste any time jumping ahead. The Giants took the lead on a run-scoring error by right fielder Atsushi Fujii in the first inning. Abe then drove in a pair with a single and Gonzalez made the score 4-0 with an RBI single of his own.
In the third, Blanco followed one-out singles by Oshima and Kazuhiro Wada with his two-run double to cut the lead in half.
Soma Yamauchi will get the start for the Dragons on Sunday, while rookie Seiji Tahara will toe the rubber for the Giants.
Tigers end slide
The Hanshin snapped a four-game losing streak despite blowing a three-run lead against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, winning 6-4 on Saturday at Jingu Stadium.
Tigers right-hander Takumi Akiyama (1-0) won his season debut in a rocky outing to earn his first victory in two years.
Hanshin captain Takashi Toritani, who homered and had three RBIs, broke a 4-4 tie in the fifth with a sacrifice fly. The Swallows tied it in the third on a solo homer by Wladimir Balentien, his 20th, and a two-run shot by Jun Matsui.
Yakult snapped a three-game wins streak.
BayStars 6, Carp 2
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Shugo Fujii (3-2) allowed two runs in five innings and had a game-tying RBI single as Yokohama halted a five-game losing streak by coming from behind to beat Hiroshima.
Kazunari Tsuruoka’s two-run, third-inning single broke a 1-1 tie, and BayStars captain Takehiro Ishii plated an insurance run in the sixth with his fourth hit of the game.
Eagles 8, Hawks 4
At Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium, Kelvin Jimenez (4-7) allowed four runs and eight hits over eight-plus innings, and Tohoku Rakuten put the game out of reach in a four-run eighth en route to victory.
Teppei Tsuchiya had three RBIs in a 2-for-4 outing. Tsuchiya, the PL’s 2009 batting champion, has hit .400 (16-for-40) since returning from a shoulder injury on June 5.
Lions 10, Fighters 5
At Seibu Dome, Esteban German capped a nine-run sixth inning with a grand slam as Seibu overturned a five-run deficit in a seven-hit attack against Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
The Lions moved past Fukuoka Softbank into fourth place in the Pacific League for the first time since April 29. Fighters lefty Mitsuo Yoshikawa (7-3) took the loss.
Buffaloes 3, Marines 0
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Hayato Terahara (3-5) threw a five-hitter for his first shutout of the season as Orix knocked off league-leading Chiba Lotte.
Aarom Baldiris singled home a run in the first and Mitsutaka Goto and Lee Dae Ho each plated a run in the third.
Bobby Scales went 1-for-3, led off both the first and third innings with walks and scored the Buffaloes’ first two runs. He has now drawn 24 walks in his 27 games.