Shogo Mori hit a two-run, go-ahead homer in the seventh inning Tuesday night as the Chunichi Dragons reduced their magic number to clinch the Central League pennant to one with a 4-2 victory over the Yakult Swallows.

News photoChunichi’s Kenshin Kawakami delivers a pitch against the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo’s Jingu
Stadium. The Dragons won 4-2.

After Hirokazu Ibata gave the Dragons a 2-1 lead with a two-run homer off Masanori Ishikawa (10-11) in the sixth at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, the Swallows responded with a game-tying infield single by Atsunori Inaba in the bottom half.

Mori then connected for his second homer of the season, and second in as many games, in support of Kenshin Kawakami (16-7), who limited Yakult to two runs and five hits in seven innings for the win.

The Dragons will clinch their sixth league title and first in five years with a win or a tie in Wednesday’s game against Yakult. Chunichi has seven games remaining in the strike-shortened season.

Carp 4, Giants 2

At Tokyo Dome, Andy Sheets hit two-run homers in consecutive at-bats off Hisanori Takahashi (5-9) and Shigenobu Shima increased his league-leading hit total to 182 as Hiroshima took an early lead and never looked back in a victory over Yomiuri.

Hiroki Kuroda (7-8) allowed solo shots to Hiroki Kokubo and Yoshinobu Takahashi but also struck out eight over eight sharp innings.

Kan Otake worked a perfect ninth for the save.

Tigers 4, BayStars 3

At Koshien Stadium, Tomoaki Kanemoto went 3-for-4 with a sixth-inning RBI single off Yoshihiro Doi (4-4) that capped the scoring for Hanshin, which overcame a late rally to edge Yokohama.

Kei Igawa (12-11) allowed three runs and seven hits in 6 2/3innings for the win and two relievers held off the BayStars the rest of the way.

Ihara steps down

KOBE (Kyodo) Haruki Ihara announced his retirement as Orix BlueWave manager Tuesday prior to the team’s merger with the Kintetsu Buffaloes in the offseason.

Ihara’s departure came with one year left in his two-year contract as Orix had been looking for a skipper whose career includes stints with both of the merger partners in the Pacific League.

Akira Ogi, former manager of Orix and Kintetsu, has been tapped as manager of the merged team called the Orix Buffaloes and appears positive about the offer.

PL to retain playoff system in 2005

The Pacific League agreed Tuesday to maintain the playoff system, which is designed to decide the regular-season winner, for the 2005 season.

The playoff system was reintroduced this season in an attempt to boost the popularity of the games in the PL, allowing the league’s top finisher in the regular season to have home-field advantage in the playoffs, rather than an automatic berth in the Japan Series.

Under the system, teams that finish second and third in the regular season will play each other in a best-of-three series with the winner facing the league’s top finisher in a best-of-five series.

“Because of the playoffs, fans were kept excited until the very end of the regular season. Most of the team representatives welcomed the idea of keeping the system next season,” PL chairman Tadao Koike said.

The Nippon Ham Fighters claimed the third and final spot in the playoffs, which begin Friday, by finishing the strike-shortened 133-game season a half game ahead of the Chiba Lotte Marines.

The Fukuoka Daiei Hawks finished first and the Seibu Lions were second .

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