• Kyodo, staff report

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Kodai Senga struck out eight over seven innings as the Fukouka SoftBank Hawks ace pitched the defending Pacific League champs to a 5-2 win over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on Thursday.

Senga (4-1) allowed two runs at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome, but none before he held a 5-0 lead through five innings. He gave up six hits and walked two as the fourth-place Hawks moved to within 1½ games of the third-place Eagles.

“I was barely able to pitch in the first part of the season, so I intend to win every game in the second half,” said Senga, who missed over three months after injuring his ankle in his season debut but has now won three straight starts.

Taisei Makihara opened the scoring with a first-inning leadoff homer off Eagles veteran Takahiro Norimoto (8-5). SoftBank’s Yuki Yanagita made it a 5-0 game in the fifth with a three-run home run, his league-leading 24th.

“I wasn’t all that good tonight, but I never thought I might lose. The young fielders turned in a lot of great plays on defense, and I’m glad for that,” Senga said. “Maki (Makihara) hit one out early on, and then midway through, Gita (Yanagita) hit one for me, so this win was due to the position players.”

Hiroshi Kaino recorded his first save for the Hawks, whose bullpen has been decimated by injuries.

While Thursday’s game had originally been scheduled to take place as a closed-door “remote match” due to the ongoing state of emergency in Fukuoka Prefecture, the Hawks were allowed to admit fans who presented proof of a completed COVID-19 vaccination or a negative PCR test.

According to the club it was the first time such a requirement had been carried out at a professional sporting event in Japan. The reported attendance was 1,630.

At Sapporo Dome, Yutaro Sugimoto capped a four-run ninth-inning rally with a two-run home run, his 22nd, as the league-leading Orix Buffaloes came back to tie the Nippon Ham Fighters 6-6.

At Kyocera Dome Osaka, the Central League’s third-place Yakult Swallows snapped closer Thyago Vieira’s scoreless-games streak at 32 with a ninth-inning run before surrendering the tying run in the home half in a 2-2 tie with the CL-leading Yomiuri Giants.

At Yokohama Stadium, Ryosuke Kikuchi homered, singled, walked three times, scored three runs and drove in three to pace the Hiroshima Carp to an 11-3 win over the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. The win moved Hiroshima into a tie for fifth place with the BayStars.

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