This close to the prize, the Yomiuri Giants aren’t about to let anyone slow their march toward the Central League pennant.
Least of all their struggling rivals to the west.
Hayato Sakamoto hit a come-from-behind three-run home run in the seventh inning and the Giants moved one step closer to the CL title with a 3-2 victory over the Hanshin Tigers on Friday at Tokyo Dome.
“Sakamoto’s home run was huge, coming with two outs at the most opportune time,” said Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara.
The win coupled with the second-place Chunichi Dragons’ loss to the Hiroshima Carp left the Giants with a magic number of six.
“The atmosphere on the team is one of anticipation of clinching the pennant soon,” Sakamoto said.
Yomiuri outfielder Yoshitomo Tani led off the seventh with a double and Hisayoshi Chono later drew a one-out walk. Hanshin starter Minoru Iwata got a ground ball out of Daisuke Fujimura, but the Tigers couldn’t turn the double play, leaving runners on first and third.
That’s when Sakamoto struck, stroking a 134-km shuuto into the seats in left field.
“(Starter Toshiya) Sugiuchi was pitching so well, and I didn’t want to see him lose, so I was thinking home run,” Sakamoto said.
Sakamoto’s heroics made a winner out of Sugiuchi, who allowed two runs on five hits and struck out three over seven innings to improve to 12-2. Tetsuya Yamaguchi worked a scoreless eighth and Kentaro Nishimura retired the side in order in the ninth for his 26th save of the season.
Iwata (8-12) allowed three runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings to lose for the first time in his last five starts.
“Iwata is a good pitcher who pitched a good game tonight,” Hara said. “We really only had the one chance to win, and we made the most of it.”
Hiroki Uemoto led off the game with a double and advanced to third on Yamato Maeda’s sacrifice bunt. Takashi Toritani drew a one-out walk and stole second before Uemoto scored on Ryota Arai’s RBI groundout to give the Tigers an early lead.
Matt Murton drove in Toritani with a double to left to make the score 2-0.
The Giants put runners on first and third with one out in the bottom half of the inning, and Shinnosuke Abe nearly put the Kyojin ahead with a deep drive to right that died just shy of the wall.
Abe singled with one out in the sixth and went to third on a Shuichi Murata double. Toritani fielded a ground ball by Kenji Yano and fired home to nail Abe at the plate for the second out of the inning and caught Michihiro Ogasawara’s pop-up to end the threat.
The Tigers were in position to tack on an insurance run in the seventh, when Takahiro Arai led off with a double and went to third on a sacrifice bunt from Shunsuke Fujikawa.
The Tigers botched a squeeze play, however, with Abe catching a pop-up off Shinji Komiyama’s bat and firing to third to end the inning.
Hirose lifts Carp
The Hiroshima Carp snapped a three-game losing streak when Jun Hirose singled in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning in a 4-3 win over the Chunichi Dragons on Friday night in the Central League.
The Dragons had tied it 3-3 in the eighth.
Closer Kam Mickolio (3-4), the third Carp pitcher, worked a scoreless eighth to keep the game tied and recorded the win.
Swallows 6, BayStars 2
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Tokyo Yakult’s Kyohei Muranaka (9-6) allowed two runs in eight innings and broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the fourth when he drove in a run with his first career triple as the Swallows defeated Yokohama.
The BayStars came from behind and took a one-run lead on solo homers by Alex Ramirez and Norihiro Nakamura, but Ryosuke Morioka’s two-out homer, his first in three years, a double by Yuhei Nakamura, Muranaka’s triple and two more RBI singles broke the game open.
Lions 3, Marines 3
At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Seibu retained its grip on first place with a combination of power and superb defense in a victory over Chiba Lotte.
Jose Ortiz and Takeya Nakamura each homered to drive in all three of the visitors’ runs, while the defense helped hold the Marines to two runs on 10 hits and four walks.
After an error helped Lotte mount a threat in the bottom of the first, center fielder Shogo Akiyama ended the inning with a double play. With one out and speedster Toshifumi Okada on third, Akiyama caught a fly in medium-deep center and threw a strike on the fly to catcher Ginjiro Sumitani for the third out.
Ortiz homered to make it 1-0 in the second off Yoshihisa Naruse (11-10), and the defense prevented the Marines from scoring in the third off starter Ryoma Nogami (8-4).
With one out, Okada tried to score on a line single to center, but a relay from Akiyama to shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima came home in time for Sumitani to block the plate and apply the tag. With two outs and runners on the corners, second baseman Hideto Asamura made a diving stop of a grounder to save another run and end the inning.
Nakamura belted his first homer of the month with Akiyama on in the sixth to make it 3-0, allowing Seibu to survive Katsuya Kakunaka’s two-run single in the seventh and hold on for the victory.
Fighters 1, Hawks 0
At Sapporo Dome, Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s Mitsuo Yoshikawa (13-4) allowed just two hits and a walk to win his sixth straight decision. The lefty struck out nine en route to his second shutout of the season.
Eiichi Koyano singled home the game’s only run in the bottom of the eighth off Fukuoka Softbank’s Kenji Otonari (12-6). The Hawks had just two runners reach second base, but their final base runner was picked off second base in the sixth inning.
Eagles 7, Buffaloes 2
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Tohoku Rakuten leapfrogged Lotte into fourth place as Ginji Akaminai broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth with a sacrifice fly and the Golden Eagles hung on to beat last-place Orix with the help of four hits and three RBIs from Kazuo Matsui.
Rakuten starter Wataru Karashima (7-5) allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings to collect the win as three relievers kept the Buffaloes off the scoreboard the rest of the way.