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Nakai, Nishimura thrive in pressure-packed moments for Giants

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Daisuke Nakai might want to get comfortable at the Big Egg.

Because he might not be going anywhere soon.

Nakai hit a tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning, and closer Kentaro Nishimura wriggled out of a bases-loaded situation in the ninth, as the Yomiuri Giants edged the Hanshin Tigers 4-3 in front of a crowd of 45,851 on Saturday night at Tokyo Dome.

“It was an exciting game, not decided until the end, and it always feels good to win games like this,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.

Striking the decisive blow may have been extra sweet for Nakai, who has spent much of the year bouncing between Tokyo and Yomiuri Land, the Giants’ ni-gun base.

“Nakai came through for us in a big way,” Hara said. “It’s huge when your No. 8 hitter wins the game with a home run.”

Nakai began the year on the farm and was called up and sent down twice before his latest promotion on June 25. Since then, the 23-year-old is hitting .351 with three home runs and 10 RBIs while also contributing in the field at second base, likely earning himself a spot on the top team as the Kyojin try to win a second straight Central League pennant.

He finished with a pair of hits on Saturday, including his home run in the seventh.

“I enjoyed watching the ball fly all the way to the stands,” Nakai said. “That was the first time I had hit a game-deciding home run. It’s a nice feeling.”

The Kyojin increased their lead over the second-place Tigers to 7 1/2 games in the CL standings, but Hanshin didn’t go quietly.

After keeping Yomiuri off the scoreboard in the eighth, the Tigers entered the ninth down by a run.

Giants reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi retired Ryota Imanari for the first out, then yielded consecutive singles to Shunsuke Fujikawa and Yamato Maeda. Takashi Toritani hit a fly ball to right for out No. 2, and Nishimura came on in relief to face Matt Murton.

Murton drew a seven-pitch walk to load the bases, but Nishimura got Shinjiro Hiyama to ground into a forceout to end the game.

“It was tough,” Murton said. “I thought we played a good game. We came up short. That’s just the name of the game. Sometimes it happens, sometimes not.”

Shuichi Murata, who finished with three hits, and Jose Lopez homered for Yomiuri, and Hayato Sakamoto was 3-for-4 for the Kyojin, raising his batting average to .299.

Yomiuri’s Scott Mathieson pitched a scoreless seventh in relief and later struck out Kentaro Sekimoto with the potential tying run on third with one out in the eighth. Mathieson (2-2) was credited with the win. Nishimura picked up his 27th save of the year.

Atsushi Nomi threw seven innings for Hanshin and was charged with four runs. Nomi (8-6) allowed nine hits and struck out five.

Murton hit a two-run home run, his eighth of the season, in the first inning, and Akihito Fujii executed a squeeze play to drive in another run in the sixth. Fujikawa finished 3-for-5.

Murton’s home run opened the scoring, but the Kyojin answered in the bottom of the second on the solo blasts from Murata and Lopez.

Takahiro Arai led off the Tigers’ half of the sixth with a single and went to second on Sekimoto’s sacrifice bunt. Ryota Arai added a pinch-hit single to left to put runners on the corners, and Fujii got a squeeze bunt down to bring in Takahiro Arai as the tiebreaking run.

Sakamoto and Shinnosuke Abe came up with one-out singles in the bottom of the sixth, and Murata made it three straight hits for Yomiuri with a game-tying RBI double.

“The atmosphere was not good when we were behind, so we had to do something to change it,” Murata said.

The Tigers attempted to mount a rally after Nakai’s home run in the seventh. Takahiro Arai drew a one-out walk, and Kenichi Tagami, running for Arai, stole second and went to third on a wild pitch. Mathieson struck out Sekimoto for the second out of the inning, and Yamaguchi walked Katsuhiko Saka before retiring Fujii to end the threat.

“Unfortunately we didn’t come out on the right side of it, but I felt that we battled,” Murton said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win at the end of the game. I think both sides had some opportunities we may have missed, and that’s just part of the game.”

The CL rivals will meet in the final game of their three-game set Sunday afternoon at the Big Egg. Rookie star Shintaro Fujinami (6-4) will get the start for the Tigers, while another of this year’s celebrated rookies, Tomoyuki Sugano (9-2), will toe the rubber for the Giants.

Balentien powers Swallows

Kyodo

Two-time CL home run king Wladimir Balentien went 3-for-4 with two homers and five RBIS, and rookie Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa (12-2) allowed two runs over eight innings in a seven strikeout effort as the last-place Tokyo Yakult Swallows routed the Hiroshima Carp 8-2 on Saturday.

Balentien hit his Japanese-baseball-leading 36th and 37th homers at Jingu Stadium.

Ogawa (12-2), who leads the CL in wins, won his seventh straight decision. Hiroshima’s three-game win streak ended as starter Shota Nakazaki (2-5) was roughed up for four runs in four innings.

Dragons 8, BayStars 7

At Yokohama Stadium, Masahiko Morino hit a three-run go-ahead blast in the sixth-inning for his second home run of the night and drove in four runs as Chunichi rallied to win its fourth in a row.

Toshiya Okada (5-4) won in relief.

Yokohama’s Shigeru Kaga (1-3) was tagged for the loss after Tim Corcoran allowed four runs — three earned — in five innings of work.

PACIFIC LEAGUE

Eagles 3, Fighters 0

At Sapporo Dome, Tohoku Rakuten right-hander Brandon Duckworth pitched six scoreless innings and the bullpen did the rest as the league-leading Eagles shut out Hokkaido Nippon Ham.

Rakuten is undefeated in its last seven games. Casey McGehee doubled and scored Rakuten’s first run on Fighters shortstop Keiji Obiki’s throwing error in the sixth after a Tatsuro Iwasaki infield single. Kazuya Fujita added insurance with a two-run double in the ninth.

Reliever Hidekazu Kawano (0-1) took the loss for cellar dweller Nippon Ham, which has lost three of its last four.

Hawks 3, Lions 2

At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, Nobuhiro Matsuda hit a go-head two-run homer with two outs in the eighth inning as Fukuoka Softbank rallied to beat Seibu for its fourth win in a row.

Marines 7, Buffaloes 4

At Kobe’s Hotto Motto Field, Keiyo Aomatsu went 3-for-4 in a 15-hit onslaught for Chiba Lotte, which moved into a tie for second place in the PL with Seibu.

Craig Brazell hit his sixth home run, a pinch-hit solo drive, in the ninth. Takahiro Fujioka (5-7) tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief for the win.

Kei Igawa (3-3) was chased in 4 1/3 innings after allowing five runs.