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Messenger leads charge as Tigers hold off Giants

Kyodo

Despite some thorns, the story kept getting rosier for Hanshin Tigers right-hander Randy Messenger.

Messenger played heroic offense and daredevil defense, leading the way over six innings as the Hanshin Tigers started a three-game series with a 4-3 win over the Central League front-running Yomiuri Giants on Tuesday night in Tokyo.

With the victory, the Tigers, who are on the road until returning to Koshien Stadium on Aug. 29, moved within a half game of their CL rivals, improving to 26-25 away from home.

Messenger (10-8) gave up two runs and six hits while striking out eight and walking four and posted double-digit wins for the fourth consecutive year. He needed all the support he could get in a close decision.

Messenger contributed to his own cause with a fifth-inning, leadoff double and after a walk issued to leadoff man Hiroki Uemoto and Shunsuke Fujikawa’s sac bunt put runners at second and third, Tigers captain Takashi Toritani came through with a sacrifice fly to bring home Messenger for a 2-1 lead at Tokyo Dome.

“Anytime you can help yourself at the plate, and drive in runs it’s a plus for a pitcher. I just wanted to make sure I got across home plate for Tori(tani) and especially the team. It’s a great feeling,” he said.

The Tigers forced lefty Toshiya Sugiuchi (7-5) to an early shower in the next inning. Matt Murton led off with a single to left and reached third on catcher Seiji Kobayashi’s throwing error on a sac bunt fielder’s choice. Ryota Arai then drew a walk to load the bases and Messenger rapped a two-run single to center.

“Just lucky, I guess. I was thinking changeup, he left a changeup up, and I was able to drive it into the outfield,” said Messenger.

The Giants grabbed one back in the bottom of the inning on a Yoshinobu Takahashi RBI single, but after Messenger dug himself into a no-out, bases-loaded hole, he struck out the next three batters he faced to end the inning — fanning pinch-hitter Jose Lopez on a low and inside forkball before pumping his right fist in the air.

“I was able to get out of that big inning, thankfully I did and gave us a win today,” he said.

Shuichi Murata turned it into a nail-biter, though, when he hit a two-out solo drive off reliever Shinobu Fukuhara in the eighth, but the Giants’ rally stopped there.

Yomiuri got on the scoreboard first through Giants captain Shinnosuke Abe’s RBI single in the first, but Fujikawa had a two-out solo blast, his first home run since April 15, 2011, to tie the game 1-all in the third.

Tigers closer Oh Seung-hwang struck out three in the ninth for his 28th save, getting Hisayoshi Chono to swing and miss a 1-2 cut fastball for the final out.

Swallows 6, Carp 5

At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Tokyo Yakult rallied from a three-run deficit in a four-run second inning against Yusuke Nomura (4-5) and Shingo Kawabata went 2-for-4 with two RBIs as Yakult held off Hiroshima. Ryosuke Kikuchi hit a pair of solo homers on a 4-for-5 night for the Carp. Yakult’s Taichi Ishiyama (2-5) yielded three runs in five innings supported by a 15-hit onslaught.

BayStars 6, Dragons 4

At Gifu Nagaragawa Stadium, Yasutomo Kubo (10-5) limited the damage to two runs over seven innings and reached double-digit wins for the first time in four years as Yokohama downed Chunichi and picked up its third win in a row. Tony Blanco went 2-for-3 with an RBI single. The Dragons lost despite banging out 13 hits to the BayStars’ nine.

PACIFIC LEAGUE

Hawks 2, Eagles 1

At Kumamoto’s Fujisakidai Stadium, Keisuke Kaneko hit a go-ahead, two-run double in the sixth inning as PL leader Fukuoka Softbank beat Tohoku Rakuten to extend its winning streak to nine games. Jason Standridge (10-4) yielded one run in eight innings to notch double-digit wins for the first time in four years. Rakuten lost a season-worst sixth straight.

Fighters 5, Marines 2

At Sapporo Dome, Fighters poster boy Shohei Otani, Sho Nakata and Daikan Yoh each homered to power third-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham past Chiba Lotte to snap a seven-game losing skid. Otani and Nakata hit solo blasts in the second and third, respectively, and Yoh’s three-run clout came in the fifth. Masaru Nakamura (5-0) got the win.

Buffaloes 7, Lions 4 (11)

At Saitama’s Seibu Dome, Ryoichi Adachi had a tiebreaking two-run triple in the 11th inning as second-place Orix prevailed in a see-saw contest in which Seibu came back to tie the game four times. PL batting leader Yoshio Itoi added a sac fly for insurance.