Tomoyuki Sugano hasn’t really needed a lot of run support when facing the Yokohama BayStars this season.
That doesn’t mean his teammates don’t like providing it all the same.
Sugano held the BayStars in check with another good performance against them, and Casey McGehee took the pressure off his pitcher with a grand slam in the seventh inning as the Yomiuri Giants picked up a 6-1 victory over the BayStars in front of 44,435 on Saturday afternoon at Tokyo Dome.
The win pulled the Giants within three games of the third-place BayStars in the race for the final spot in the Central League Climax Series.
“We’ve got ourselves in a position where we need to play really good baseball down the stretch to get into the playoffs,” McGehee said. “We can just take it one day at a time, but this is a big series for us for sure.”
Sugano allowed one run and three hits over 7 2/3 innings. He struck out eight and walked two batters. Sugano improved to 13-5 on the season, matching the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ Nao Higashihama (13-3) for the most wins in NPB this year.
“I gave up the first run, but I was able to bear down and just pitch as usual and do my best not to allow another,” Sugano said.
His 13 victories match his career high, which he set as a rookie in 2013.
“I can’t afford to lose any games,” Sugano said. “I want to do my best to win and help the team reach the top.”
Five of Sugano’s victories this season have come from six outings against Yokohama. Sugano has allowed just six runs in 46 2/3 innings against the BayStars this season.
“We tried to swing early in the count as always, but he was pretty good once again,” said BayStars manager Alex Ramirez.
Before Sugano could throw a pitch in the eighth he was met on the mound by the pitching coach and a trainer. He remained in the game, but the trainer was out again after Sugano rushed to cover first to record his first out of the inning. He left with discomfort in his leg.
By then the Giants didn’t need him, since McGehee had broken open a one-run game with his first grand slam as a Yomiuri player just an inning earlier.
McGehee worked the count full against reliever Shingo Hirata with two outs in the seventh and the bases full. He then sent a 138-kph shuuto rocketing beyond the wall in right field.
“I swung at some pitches early in the count that I fouled off,” said McGehee, who has 14 homers this year. “Sometimes it takes time until the at-bat goes where you can get a pitch that you can put a good swing on.”
McGehee improved to 7-for-11 with the bases loaded this season, success he credits to his teammates getting on base and his own growth as a player.
“I think that as I’ve gotten older you realize as much as you feel like you’re in a pressure situation hitting, really the pitcher is the one that’s got himself into a bad situation. You try to let the game come to you in those situations. Just getting more experience to know that he’s the one in a bad situation, not you.”
Outfielder Daikan Yoh drove in the Giants’ other two runs with a two-run double in the fifth that gave his club a 2-1 lead.
“We’ve come to this point and we want to win tomorrow as well,” Yoh said.
Masayuki Kuwahara drove in the BayStars’ lone run in the third, hitting a deep home run, his 13th, that landed in the deck above the stands in left field.
Yokohama starter Shoichi Ino (4-7) pitched 6 1/3 innings, leaving with the bases loaded in the seventh. He was charged with five runs on five hits and took the loss. Ino stuck out four, walked two and hit a batter.
“His fastball was pretty hard,” Ramirez said. “Still command-wise, not consistent. Overall, he didn’t pitch too bad.
“In the seventh inning, at that point I needed to take him out. Daikan Yoh (the batter due up) was hitting the ball pretty good against him. It was a situation where I needed somebody who had better command. But overall, he did OK.”
After taking the first two games of the series, the Giants will go for the sweep in a matchup of rookie starters on Sunday. Seishu Hatase (2-1) will take the mound for Yomiuri, with Haruhiro Hamaguchi (7-4) starting for the BayStars.
Tigers pound Dragons
Koyo Aoyagi allowed a run over 7-1/3 innings, while Yusuke Oyama, fresh off a five-RBI night, singled in the tying run in the second as the Hanshin Tigers routed the Chunichi Dragons 8-1 on Saturday in the Central League.
The Dragons’ Kosuke Fukudome added a two-run homer off his former team.
Swallows 5, Carp 0
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Yasuhiro Ogawa (6-6) struck out nine over eight innings, while Tetsuto Yamada went 3-for-5 and iced Tokyo Yakult’s triumph over Hiroshima with a seventh-inning grand slam.
Lions 3, Fighters 0
At Sapporo Dome, Shinsaburo Tawata threw his second straight shutout, allowing five hits and no walks in Seibu’s victory over Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
The 24-year-old Tawata, the Lions’ top draft pick in 2014, struck out six en route to winning his fifth straight decision and improving to 5-2. Although he had a little trouble locating early, the right-hander had good movement on his fastball.
“My pitches weren’t that good early, so I focused on just throwing one strike after another,” Tawata said. “When I was pitching, my main focus was on the team winning — more so than on another shutout.
“Results are something that I’m confident will come, provided I stick to my game and execute.”
Tawata faced the minimum over the first three innings relying almost exclusively on his fastball. And though Fighters starter Naoyuki Uwasawa (3-5) matched him for three scoreless innings, he had to show the Lions’ batters all his pitches to get that far.
Seibu took the lead in the fourth, when Shogo Akiyama opened the inning with his second walk. With one out, Uwasawa missed in the heart of the zone with a breaking ball that Hotaka Yamakawa drove over the left-field wall.
Shohei Otani nearly hit one out in the seventh, but had to settle for a double high off the wall in center. With one on and two outs in the ninth, Otani beat out an infield single to bring the tying runner to the plate, but Tawata got cleanup hitter Sho Nakata to pop up for the final out.
Uwasawa allowed two runs on four hits and three walks over six innings. He struck out 11 in a solid losing effort.
Buffaloes 7, Marines 3
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Eiichi Koyano’s two-run, sixth-inning single broke a 3-3 tie and made a winner out of rookie Taisuke Yamaoka (5-8), who allowed three runs in six innings as Orix topped Chiba Lotte to snap a five-game losing streak.
Hawks 2, Eagles 0
At Sendai’s Kobo Park, Kodai Senga (11-2) struck out 10 over eight innings to outduel Takahiro Norimoto (11-4) as league-leading Fukuoka SoftBank handed second-place Tohoku Rakuten its fifth straight loss.
The Hawks’ Dennis Sarfate recorded his 42nd save, one shy of the PL record he set last season.