NAGOYA – Nobumasa Fukuda twice drove in Ryosuke Hirata, pacing the Chunichi Dragons to a 2-1 win Thursday over the Central League-leading Yomiuri Giants.
The Giants entered the game with a magic number of four to clinch their first CL pennant since 2014. The leaders’ third straight loss cut their lead over the second-place Yokohama BayStars to three games. The Giants have seven games remaining and the BayStars six.
Yomiuri’s Hayato Sakamoto opened the scoring in the top of the sixth inning at Nagoya Dome against Shinnosuke Ogasawara with his 37th home run. But the Dragons tied it in the home half of the inning against Giants starter Cristopher Mercedes.
With one out, Hirata was on first with Chunichi’s second hit of the game against the Yomiuri lefty. He advanced to second when Yota Kyoda tried to bunt his way on. Mercedes threw Fukuda a low 1-1 changeup that the right-handed hitter was ready for and pulled down the left field line for a game-tying double.
After Sakamoto’s home run, Ogasawara and three relievers did not allow another Giants batter to reach base. Southpaw Joely Rodriguez (3-4) struck out all three Giants he faced in the eighth and earned the win when doubles by Hirata and Fukuda off Hirokazu Sawamura (2-2) put the Dragons in front.
“Even though the game was tied, I was calm and able to do my best,” said Rodriguez, who caught all three batters he faced looking at strike three.
Fukuda said Rodriguez helped Chunichi turn things around.
“Rodriguez just pitched amazing for us, and he picked the team up. He gave us momentum and we rode that when we batted,” Fukuda added.
Raidel Martinez worked the ninth to earn his eighth save.
Swallows 8, Tigers 0
At Koshien Stadium, Yasuhiro Ogawa (5-12) went the distance in Tokyo Yakult’s rout of Hanshin.
The Tigers’ Koji Chikamoto went 1-for-4 to set a CL record with 154 hits by a rookie.
BayStars 11, Carp 8 (11)
At Yokohama Stadium, Takayuki Kajitani belted a pinch-hit grand slam, and Neftali Soto hit a pair of three-run home runs, including an 11th-inning walk-off homer as Yokohama overcame a seven-run deficit to defeat Hiroshima.
Lions 2, Fighters 0
At Tokorozawa’s MetLife Dome, Ken Togame (5-6) threw seven-plus scoreless innings as Seibu blanked an opponent for the second straight day, beating Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
The win dropped the Lions’ magic number to clinch their second consecutive PL pennant to five.
Hawks 4, Buffaloes 3
At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, Akira Nakamura’s eighth-inning sacrifice fly lifted Fukuoka SoftBank to a victory over Orix as the Hawks clinched a spot in the postseason for the sixth year in a row.
Eagles 2, Marines 0
At Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, Takahiro Norimoto (4-5) tossed eight sharp innings as Tohoku Rakuten topped Chiba Lotte and climbed past the hosts into third place.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5