Yuhei Takai did the job with his bat and glove in support of ace Masanori Ishikawa as the Yakult Swallows beat the Yomiuri Giants 2-1 on Sunday to move within three wins of the Central League pennant.
Takai lined a leadoff single in the top of the fifth and scored on a single by Ishikawa, and with the Swallows leading 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth, saved the game with a spectacular catch.
Ishikawa (13-9) allowed a run on three hits and two walks over five innings. The lefty posted his fifth win of the month as Yakult pushes toward its first pennant since 2001.
“I didn’t throw that well in the bullpen before the game, but I was determined to do whatever I could to prevent them from scoring first,” Ishikawa said. “Today’s game was huge, but we have more to play.”
Giants starter Tomoyuki Sugano (10-11) pitched out of a two-on, two-out jam by striking out record-setting slugger Wladimir Balentien to end the fourth, but the Swallows got on the board in the fifth as Takai’s leadoff single was followed by a run-and-hit infield single. After a sacrifice, Ishikawa reached for a backdoor slider from Sugano and pulled it over the second baseman for an RBI single. Leadoff man Tsuyoshi Ueda’s speed kept the Giants from turning a double play as another run scored.
The Giants scored once in the home half and could have had more but for Takai’s catch. Rookie Kazuma Okamoto drew a one-out walk and hustled to third on Seiji Kobayashi’s single down the left-field line. Kobayashi went to second on the throw, and veteran Hirokazu Ibata batted for Sugano.
Ibata sliced a 1-1 pitch away down the right-field line, but Takai made a diving catch, robbing Ibata of a two-run double and forcing the Giants to settle for a sacrifice fly.
Sugano allowed two runs on five hits and a walk. The right-hander struck out four but his location was poor and was saved by several hard-hit balls finding his fielders’ gloves.
Right-handed Swallows side-armer Ryo Akiyoshi worked a 1-2-3 sixth, but the Giants threatened in the seventh against Orlando Roman on back-to-back singles by Hisayoshi Chono and pinch hitter Yoshiyuki Kamei. After pinch hitter Takayuki Terauchi struck out trying to sacrifice, lefty Kentaro Kyuko came on and retired both batters he faced to preserve the lead.
Swallows setup man Logan Ondrusek allowed a one-out triple to Yasuyuki Kataoka in the eighth. But with two outs, Kataoka on third and Giants legend Shinnosuke Abe at the plate, closer Tony Barnette took the mound. Barnette hit Abe to put the go-ahead run on first, but struck out the dangerous Chono to end the threat.
Barnette surrendered a leadoff single in the ninth to Kamei, but Terauchi’s poor bunt saw Kamei forced easily at second for the first out. Pinch hitter Yoshinobu Takahashi walked, moving the tying run to second. But Barnette struck out the last two men he faced to record his 39th save, and letting out a furious quaking roar in the process.
The Giants, who have already clinched a spot in the playoffs, trail the Swallows by two games in their bid for a fourth straight CL championship.
Carp 5, Tigers 2
At Mazda Stadium, Kris Johnson (14-7) allowed two runs over 6⅓ innings and Kosuke Tanaka drove in three runs to pace Hiroshima to its second straight win over Hanshin, whom the Carp now trail by 1½ games in the fight for the CL’s final playoff spot.
Marines 3, Hawks 1
At QVC Marine Field, Tadahito Iguchi beat out a two-out infield single to drive in the game’s first run, and Yuta Omine (8-7) limited Fukuoka Softbank to three hits and a walk over seven innings. The Marines took two-out-of-three from the league champion Hawks to remain 1½ games behind the third-place Lions in the hunt for the PL’s final playoff spot.
Lions 5, Eagles 1
At Seibu Prince Dome, Ginjiro Sumitani opened the scoring with a third-inning solo homer, and Shogo Akiyama capped the two-run inning by tripling and scoring on Naoto Watanabe’s single as Seibu won its fifth straight. Ken Togame (11-7) held Tohoku Rakuten to a run on four hits and a walk over eight innings.
Fighters 2, Buffaloes 0
At Kyocera Dome, Hokkaido Nippon Ham ace Shohei Otani (15-5) struck out 12 over eight innings to outduel Orix rookie Sachiya Yamasaki (3-6) as Yang Dai-kang singled and homered and scored both Fighters’ runs.
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