It’ll essentially be winner-take-all for this season’s interleague title.
The Yomiuri Giants made sure of that.
Shun Yamaguchi remained hot on the mound, Yoshihiro Maru remained hot at the plate and the Kyojin remained in contention for the interleague crown with a 7-2 victory over the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on Saturday afternoon at Tokyo Dome.
The Hawks would’ve clinched the interleague crown with a win but had few answers for Yamaguchi, who threw seven innings of one-run ball. He allowed five hits and struck out seven in a 104-pitch outing.
“I was a little more fired up than usual when I stepped on the mound,” he said.
Yamaguchi (7-2) has won his last three decisions and allowed two or fewer runs in his last five starts.
“I’m throwing the ball with a lot of confidence right now,” he said.
When asked to explain his recent form, Yamaguchi had a simple reply.
“I go to bed early and get up early,” he said.
The interleague-leading Hawks (10-5-2) and Giants (11-6) are separated by percentage points in the standings. Their matchup on Sunday (the final interleague game for both) will decide things, with the winner (or the Hawks in case of a tie) claiming the top spot.
“We’ll definitely win tomorrow,” Maru said. “I want to win interleague.”
It would be a first for Maru, who spent his first eight seasons with the Hiroshima Carp, who generally haven’t done well during this time of the year.
Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano will take the mound on Sunday against Tsuyoshi Wada, the Hawks’ veteran lefty.
Yamaguchi will sit that one out, but Wada will have to contend with Maru.
Maru got the Giants on the board with an RBI single in the third on Saturday and finished with his second straight three-hit game. The two-time defending Central League MVP is on a five-game hitting streak, with at least two hits in four of those contests.
“I also think it’s good to go to bed early and get up early,” he joked.
Kazuma Okamoto and Yoshiyuki Kamei each drove in a pair for runs for Yomiuri, which sits atop the Central League standings. Hayato Sakamoto and Shinnosuke Abe also drove in runs.
Sakamoto got his first hit since Tuesday with a single in his second at-bat. Sakamoto, who struck out in all five of his at-bats on Friday and in his first on Saturday, finished 1-for-3 and picked up his RBI with a sacrifice fly in the seventh.
Nobuhiro Matsuda had two of the Hawks’ six hits as SoftBank lost for the second time in seven games. He also scored the team’s first run. Shuhei Fukuda’s pinch-hit RBI double in the ninth was the club’s only extra-base hit.
Starter Rei Takahashi allowed three runs, all in the third, on five hits. He was lifted for a pinch hitter with the Hawks threatening in the top of the fifth, a rally Yamaguchi stamped out after allowing one run. Takahashi (7-2) was charged with the loss.
The Hawks will be going for their eighth interleague title on Sunday. The Giants have won the midseason crown twice.
Marte, Iwata lead Tigers to victory
Nishinomiya Hyogo Pref.
Jefry Marte’s two-run single brought Hanshin back from a run down in the fourth inning, and leftyMinoru Iwata (2-2) allowed two runs over six innings in the Tigers’ 6-2 victory over the Seibu Lions.
Buffaloes 3, Carp 2
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Orix rookie Keita Nakagawa drove in two runs in his third straight multi-hit game, while Brandon Dickson recorded his third straight save as the Buffaloes edged the hosts.
Marines 8, Swallows 4
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Daichi Suzuki went 4-for-4 with two homers, a walk, three runs and four RBIs to power Chiba Lotte past Tokyo Yakult.
Dragons 6, Fighters 1
At Nagoya Dome, Chunichi’s Kazuki Yoshimi (1-1) allowed a run over 5-2/3 innings to earn the win against Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
Fighters veteran Chihiro Kaneko (3-5) allowed two runs over four innings.
Eagles 11, BayStars 9
At Yokohama Stadium, Ayatsugu Yamashita’s two-run, seventh-inning homer brought Tohoku Rakuten from a run down in slugfest win over Yokohama.
The teams combined for 13 first-inning runs.