Just like the weather outside of the relatively comfortable and cool confines of Tokyo Dome, the Yomiuri Giants are starting to heat up again.
Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto set a career-high with a solo home run in the first inning, rookie starter Yuki Takahashi kept the Hanshin Tigers caged for six frames and the Kyojin held on for a 4-2 on Saturday afternoon in front of a crowd of 45,701 at the Big Egg.
“It’s always big when you’re given a lead,” Takahashi said. “I just wanted to do whatever I could to hang tough with the one-run advantage.”
The Giants, who lost their first five games this month, are 8-2-1 in their last 11 contests. Yomiuri is in first place in the Central League with a 4½-game cushion that could increase depending on the results later Saturday night.
The Tigers made a late surge, cutting a four-run deficit to two on back-to-back one-out home runs by Fumiya Hojo and Kosuke Fukudome, against reliever Kyosuke Takagi, in the eighth.
Yohei Kagiya came on to get the final two outs of the eighth for Yomiuri and Rubby De La Rosa worked a clean ninth for his fourth save of the season.
“It was a difficult situation to come into, but I was just thinking about pitching my own game when I went to the mound,” Kagiya said.
Yomiuri has dominated the storied Central League rivalry this season, improving to 12-6 against Hanshin.
Sakamoto hit his home run off Tigers starter Yuki Nishi in the bottom of the first to give his team an early advantage. The homer was his 32nd of the season, the most the Yomiuri captain has hit since his previous career-best of 31 in 2010.
He ended the game still leading the CL in home runs with two more than the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Tetsuto Yamada and the Yokohama BayStars’ Neftali Soto, who both played later Saturday.
Sakamoto’s homer was all that separated the teams for most of the afternoon.
Takahashi (5-4), the Giants’ first-round choice in last fall’s draft, got out of a bases-loaded situation in the first inning and went on to toss five more shutout frames to protect the slim lead.
“I didn’t know how it was going to turn out when I faced that tough situation in the first inning,” he said. “But I followed (catcher Takumi) Oshiro’s lead and was able to pitch well.”
He walked four batters, but allowed just two hits — singles in the first and fourth innings — and struck out six.
“They were able to run on me and I got in a pinch, but the fielders protected me and I think that’s why I was able to not give up any runs,” Takahashi said.
Nishi (5-8) gave up seven hits but Sakamoto’s homer was the only run he allowed in his six innings on the mound. Nishi struck out five and walked three. Twice he needed replay reviews to uphold out calls on inning-ending plays that would’ve yielded runs had they gone the other way.
“I threw against a really good pitcher and I’m thankful I was able to win,” Takahashi said.
Sakamoto was 2-for-4 for Yomiuri, which finished with 10 hits. Shinnosuke Abe also had a pair of hits, including an RBI single. Alex Guerrero chipped in with an RBI double and laid down the first sacrifice bunt of his NPB career (he’s in his third season) in the sixth. Kazuma Okamoto also recorded an RBI.
After the Tigers failed to capitalize on loading the bases against Takahashi in the top of the first, Sakamoto gave the Giants a 1-0 lead with his homer in the bottom half.
The Giants loaded the bases with one out in the sixth, but came away empty-handed as Nishi continued to hold them to one run.
Yomiuri loaded the bases again in the seventh and didn’t waste the opportunity.
Okamoto hit a fly ball to right to bring in an insurance with a sacrifice fly. Abe followed with an RBI single and Guerrero hit a double off the wall in left to drive in another run to make the score 4-0.
The clubs will play the final game of a three-game set on Sunday at Tokyo Dome. Shun Yamaguchi (11-2) will take the mound for the Giants, who have won three straight. Onelki Garcia (2-6) will start for Hanshin.
Rookie Murakami ignites Swallows
Nineteen-year-old rookie Munetaka Murakami raised his season home run total to 28 with two solo shots in the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ 7-5 victory over the Chunichi Dragons in Central League action at Jingu Stadium.
BayStars 8, Carp 3
At Yokohama Stadium, lefty Kenta Ishida (3-0) worked six scoreless innings, while Yoshitomo Tsutsugo hit two home runs and drove in three as Yokohama routed Hiroshima.
Buffaloes 6, Marines 0
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Daichi Takeyasu threw a two-hitter for his first career shutout, leading Orix past Chiba Lotte.
The 24-year-old right-hander, who was acquired by the Buffaloes over the winter as compensation for the Hanshin Tigers signing free agent pitcher Yuki Nishi, struck out five, while walking four. Takeyasu improved to 3-1 in eight games for the last-place Buffaloes.
“I was about at my limit,” he said after an easy 1-2-3 ninth inning to wrap up the win. “A lot of things had to happen to get me this far, and I’d like to be able to win a lot of games going forward for the sake of the people here who have had my back.”
Stefen Romero went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBI doubles as he extended his hitting streak to 11 games. He opened the scoring in the first inning off Marines starter Kota Futaki (6-9) by doubling home leadoff man Shuhei Fukuda with two outs.
“I just wanted to get on the board early. The way Daichi was pitching was incredible,” Romero said. “He just needed the one run to get the win, but fortunately we got more than that. I feel really good when the team’s winning and doing its best. Fortunately, I keep hitting them in the right spots.”
Futaki allowed five runs over five innings.
Fighters 6, Eagles 1
At Sapporo Dome, Hokkaido Nippon Ham snapped its nine-game losing streak, beating Tohoku Rakuten behind seven innings from Kohei Arihara (12-6).
Lions 13, Hawks 8
At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, Seibu hammered Kodai Senga (11-5) for nine runs in the second inning in a victory over Fukuoka SoftBank.