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The Yomiuri Giants continued to put pressure on the Central League leaders on Saturday with a strong performance from Yoshihiro Maru, who homered twice in a 6-1 win over the Chunichi Dragons.

Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the first, Maru hit his 11th home run after Japan Olympian Hayato Sakamoto’s single put two on with none out at Tokyo Dome.

“We’d given up the lead, so my thought was on tying the game,” Maru said. “I was very relaxed and got the best possible result.”

The Giants remained in second place, one game back of the Hanshin Tigers.

Dragons starter Yariel Rodriguez (0-2) bounced back from his tough first inning to keep the game close until Maru homered to open Yomiuri’s two-run sixth.

“The game had settled into a stalemate, so I was hoping to get started so we could put the game away,” said Maru, who struggled through the opening months of the season and credited Japan’s most famous former player with helping him find his footing.

“I put in a lot of work on the farm and was fortunate to spend time working with manager emeritus (Shigeo) Nagashima.”

Yomiuri cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto walked and scored in the sixth, and hit his CL-leading 28th homer in the eighth.

Giants lefty Cristopher Mercedes (6-1), who contributed to the Dominican Republic’s Tokyo 2020 bronze medal, allowed a run over five innings in which he walked two, hit a batter and gave up six hits.

At Kyocera Dome Osaka, Jerry Sands hit his 18th and 19th home runs and drove in four runs for the Tigers in a 9-3 win over the Hiroshima Carp.

At Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome, Nao Higashihama (3-2) struck out 11 and allowed two hits over eight innings to outduel Naoyuki Uwasawa (6-5) as the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, the defending Pacific League champions, beat the last-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 2-0.

At MetLife Dome, Hiroaki Shimauchi scored three runs and hit a solo home run, his 13th, for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, who held on to beat the Seibu Lions 7-6 and move within a half game of the PL-leading Orix Buffaloes.

At Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, Kyota Fujiwara hit a tie-breaking two-run second-inning home run and the third-place Chiba Lotte Marines held on to beat the Orix Buffaloes 4-2.

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