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Swallows pound out 17 hits, throttle Giants

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows wrapped up a series that saw them play in three cities on three consecutive nights. The only constants were a barrage of hits and victories over the Yomiuri Giants at every stop.

Kazuhiro Hatakeyama and Yuhei Takai each hit two-run home runs to back a solid effort by starter Ryohei Kiya as the Swallows spoiled Frederich Cepeda’s debut with an 11-4 rout of the Giants on Thursday night at Tokyo Dome.

“Our bats really came alive in this series,” Swallows manager Junji Ogawa said. “I hope we can keep this up.”

Yakult opened the three-game series with a 6-4 win on Tuesday night in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, then blasted the Kyojin 10-3 the next night in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Once the teams were back in Tokyo, the Swallows beat up on their crosstown rivals again, completing the three-game sweep behind a 17-hit attack.

“Beating the Giants like this and sweeping the series, what can I say, it’s huge,” Ogawa said.

Hatakeyama’s home run was his fifth of the year, and the Swallows slugger finished a triple shy of the cycle on a 4-for-5 night.

“A triple, how many years has it been since I hit a triple,” Hatakeyama joked after the game.

Takai went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs, and Tetsuto Yamada also banged out three hits while driving in a run. Yuhei Nakamura had two hits and a game-high four RBIs, and Wladimir Balentien had the other multi-hit night for Yakult, going 2-for-5.

Shingo Kawabata drove in the Swallows’ first run of the night on an RBI groundout in the first, and was the last of the team’s position players to register a hit when he led off the ninth with a home run.

Yakult had at least 15 hits in all three games of the series, lighting up Yomiuri’s pitchers for 48 hits and 27 runs.

Kiya was the beneficiary of the run support on Thursday, as he improved to 3-2 on the season.

“If we keep getting run support as I did tonight, all of our pitchers will be happy,” he said.

The right-hander threw seven innings of two-run ball, allowing six hits and striking out five with a pair of walks. The win was his first against Yomiuri.

“I was able to pitch well enough to go seven innings and felt comfortable throughout the game,” Kiya said.

The Swallows’ offense overshadowed Cepeda’s first game in Japan. The Cuban outfielder arrived in the country earlier in the week and hit cleanup and patrolled left field for the Kyojin on Thursday, finishing 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.

“I heard about Cepeda, but I tried not to focus only on him,” Kiya said. “The Giants have a lot of great hitters.”

The 34-year-old Cepeda has been a star in the Cuban National Series (the country’s domestic league) for years and a stalwart on the Cuban national team for more than a decade. He’s one of the first players to take advantage of the Cuban government’s new relaxed rules, which allow players to sign with teams outside Cuba.

His arrival couldn’t prevent the Giants from losing their fourth straight game. Yomiuri has dropped five of its last seven overall as it prepares to host the first-place Hiroshima Carp for three games beginning Friday.

Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe briefly made the score 3-2 in the fifth with an RBI groundout, and the next batter, Shuichi Murata, nearly followed that with a two-run homer to center.

His drive failed to clear the wall, and that’s as close as Yomiuri would get as the Swallows began to blow the game open.

Taishi Ota and Tetsuya Matsumoto each drove in a run in the bottom of the ninth, but both scores amounted to far too little, far too late.

Kan Otake was charged with the loss after allowing six runs in five-plus innings. Otake (5-2) struck out seven and walked two.

Morino powers Dragons past BayStars

Yokohama KYODO

Masahiko Morino hit a three-run homer to key a five-run third inning as the Chunichi Dragons downed the Yokohama BayStars 6-2 on Thursday to win its fourth in a row.

Tatsuro Hamada (2-0) gave up two runs and four hits in six innings for the win. Yokohama lost its third in a row.

PACIFIC LEAGUE
Fighters 6, Lions 4

At Sapporo Dome, Keiji Obiki and Sho Nakata had back-to-back RBI singles as Hokkaido Nippon Ham broke a 1-1 tie in the second inning en route to winning its third in a row to return to .500.

Last-place Seibu lost its fourth straight.

Hawks 7, Marines 1

At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Sho Iwasaki (1-0) surrendered one unearned run in seven innings to win in his first start of the season.

Yuya Hasegawa and Nobuhiro Matsuda homered and Fukuoka Softbank rolled over Yuki Karakawa (0-5) and Chiba Lotte.

Buffaloes at Eagles — ppd.