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Closer Dennis Sarfate was pressed into service early and it paid off as the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks overcame a late challenge to defeat the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 5-4 on Saturday afternoon.

Sarfate (4-0) entered with one out in the eighth inning and the tying runs on base, he surrendered two RBI singles but got out of the inning and picked up the win after the Hawks took the lead in the bottom of the eighth.

The win, before a crowd of 38,500 at Yafuoku Dome, increased the Hawks’ lead in the Pacific League to 9-1/2 games over the second-place Fighters.

With the game tied 4-4, the Hawks loaded the bases on singles by Kenta Imamiya and Lee Dae-ho and a walk by Yuki Yanagita. Nobuhiro Matsuda drove in the go-ahead run on a groundout to short. The Fighters’ attempt for an inning-ending double play died when second baseman Kensuke Tanaka bounced his throw and Matsuda barely beat it out.

“I was just running as hard as I could to be safe at first,” said Matsuda, whose two-run homer had made it 4-0 in the fourth.

“The World Athletics Championships are going on right now, and I wanted to run fast enough to win the 100-meter dash.”

Keisuke Tanimoto (3-1), who allowed two runners in one-third of an inning, took the loss.

Behind seven scoreless innings from Shota Takeda and two-run homers from Yanagita and Matsuda, Softbank was in the driver’s seat, only to see Nippon Ham tie it in the eighth off reliever Yuito Mori.

The right-hander retired just one of the five batters he faced and left with the four-run lead cut in half. Mori gave up a hot shot to third that could have resulted in a twin killing, but Matsuda fumbled the ball and only barely managed to tag the bag for a force.

Sarfate was brought in to restore order and made good pitches, but the Fighters still managed to tie it. Kensuke Kondo got his bat on a 1-2 slider out of the zone and Golden Glove shortstop Kenta Imamiya failed to catch it on the short hop. The single trimmed the Hawks’ lead to a run, and Sho Nakata’s pinch-hit single tied it before Sarfate could strike out the last two batters and end the inning.

Eagles 8, Lions 4

At Sendai’s Kobo Stadium, Seibu starter Ryoma Nogami (7-7) surrendered a three-run homer to Motohiro Shima and a grand slam to Kazuya Fujita to make a winner out of Tohoku Rakuten starter Yoshinao Kamata (1-0), who was pitching for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery prior to the 2014 season.

Marines 5, Buffaloes 4

At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Takuya Furuya (3-2) allowed two runs — one earned — in six innings and picked up the win after Alfredo Despaigne scored his second run of the game to break a 2-2, sixth-inning tie on a passed ball as Chiba Lotte defeated Orix.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Swallows 8, Tigers 4

At Koshien Stadium, Shingo Kawabata’s RBI double tied it and Tetsuto Yamada’s RBI triple put Tokyo Yakult ahead for good against Hanshin starter Randy Messenger (8-11) in a five-run eighth inning.

Yamada delivered a knockout blow in the ninth with his league-leading 33rd home run.

Carp 3, BayStars 2 (10)

At Yokohama Stadium, Brad Eldred’s second RBI single of the game broke a 2-2 tie in the 10th inning as Hiroshima edged Yokohama.

Eldred’s RBI single in the first opened the scoring. Yoshihiro Maru reached base four times and scored all three Carp runs.

Giants 3, Dragons 0

At Tokyo Dome, Kan Otake (2-3) allowed two singles and a walk over seven innings to outduel lefty Tatsuro Hamada (0-2) as Yomiuri held Chunichi scoreless for the second straight night.

Hayato Sakamoto’s RBI single and Shuichi Murata’s bases-loaded walk drove in the Giants’ first-inning runs, and Shinnosuke Abe belted his 12th home run in the sixth.

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