Hanshin Tigers players have drawn overwhelming popularity in fan balloting for this summer’s All-Star series, taking leading positions in all but one categories in early vote counts announced by baseball officials Wednesday.

News photoSoftbank Hawks starter Kazumi Saito pitches against the Hanshin Tigers in an interleague game
Wednesday at Koshien Stadium. Saito picked up his fifth win of the season in the Hawks’ 12-5

Norihiro Akahoshi obtained 74,123 votes, the most in the Central League, to lead the Tigers’ sweep of all three spots in the outfield along with Tomoaki Kanemoto and Shinjiro Hiyama among the eligible players for the games on July 22 and 23.

Leadoff man Akahoshi leads the CL with 73 hits, 24 stolen bases, 50 runs scored and six triples in 52 games before Wednesday’s games.

Also among fans’ top picks are four Hanshin infielders — first baseman Andy Sheets, Atsushi Fujimoto at second base, third baseman and RBI leader Makoto Imaoka, and shortstop Takashi Toritani.

Akihiro Yano topped the balloting at catcher, leading Yakult Swallows veteran Atsuya Furuta by 165 votes. His Hanshin batterymates Kyuji Fujikawa and Tomoyuki Kubota came out on top in the categories for middle relievers and closers, respectively.

Chunichi Dragons ace Kenshin Kawakami, last year’s CL MVP and Sawamura Award winner, earned the most votes among the league’s starting pitchers to avoid a complete sweep by Hanshin players.

Kenji Joima of the Softbank Hawks leads the Pacific League catchers with 79,052 votes, the most among all eligible players.

PL leader Lotte saw four players stand on top — second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka, designated hitter Lee Seung Yeop, closer Masahide Kobayashi and middle reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta.

Votes will be accepted through June 26 via balloting forms, postcards, Internet and mobile phones. The final results will be announced on July 7, one day before the managers’ picks round out the full rosters.

The two-year All-Star series will be played at Invoice Seibu Dome on July 22 and Koshien Stadium the following day.

Hawks beat Tigers

The Associated Press

Julio Zuleta connected for a pair of solo homers Wednesday and Nobuhiko Matsunaka added a two-run blast to lead the Softbank Hawks to a 12-5 win over the Hanshin Tigers.

Zuleta gave the Hawks a 2-0 lead in the second inning at Koshien Stadium with his 17th homer of the season off Hanshin starter Kei Igawa. Matsunaka made it 4-0 for Sadaharu Oh’s team in the third inning with his 21st homer of the season.

Zuleta added to the onslaught in the seventh with his second homer of the night off Hanshin reliever Hirotaka Egusa.

Softbank starter Kazumi Saito picked up the win after holding the Tigers to two runs on six hits over six innings.

Igawa took the loss after giving up eight runs on 12 hits over five innings.

BayStars 9, Eagles 3

At Yokohama Stadium, Takuro Ishii, Masaaki Koike, Takahiro Saeki and Hitoshi Tamura all homered in the first inning as the BayStars defeated Rakuten.

Saeki hit a two-run homer off Rakuten starter Hiroki Yamamura while Ishii, Koike and Tamura all had solo shots to chase the veteran right-hander from the mound in the first inning.

Cedrick Bowers benefited from the early run support and held the Eagles to three runs on seven hits over the distance for the win.

Swallows 9, Buffaloes 1

At Osaka Dome, Akinori Iwamura and Shinya Miyamoto drove in two runs each to lead Yakult past Orix.

Yakult starter Shugo Fujii held the Buffaloes to one run on five hits over eight innings as the Swallows moved into first place in the Central League standings, a half-game ahead of the Tigers.

Marines 7, Carp 2

At Chiba Marine Stadium, Benny Agbayani connected for a three-run homer in the third inning and drove in a pair of runs in the sixth as Pacific League-leading Lotte cruised to victory win over Hiroshima.

Shingo Ono picked up the win after giving up one run on eight hits over the distance as the Marines maintained a four-game lead over Softbank in the standings.

Lions 3, Dragons 0

At Nagoya Dome, Takeya Nakamura drove in all three runs and Kazuyuki Hoashi went eight strong innings as Seibu blanked Chunichi.

Nakamura singled in a run in the first inning and connected for a two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning.

Fighters 5, Giants 5 (12)

At Sapporo Dome, Fernando Seguignol hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth as Nippon Ham and Yomiuri played to a tied game for the second night running.

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