The Hanshin Tigers needed a win and Haruto Takahashi helped give them one and then some.
Takahashi threw the first shutout of his career — getting just enough run support to win a pitchers’ duel against Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano — to help the Tigers earn a 3-0 win over the Kyojin at Tokyo Dome on Saturday afternoon.
“I made it to the ninth inning and I really wanted to finish without giving up a run and I’m glad it worked out that way,” Takahashi said.
It was an important game for both clubs, who played to a tie on Friday, with the Central League pennant race looking like it could go to the wire. The second-place Tigers began the day a half-game behind the league-leading Tokyo Yakult Swallows and two ahead of the third-place Giants.
Tigers infielder Kento Itohara broke up the pitchers’ duel with a solo home run off Sugano in the seventh and Takumu Nakano, who was the hero with his glove on Friday, padded the lead with a two-run double in the eighth.
Takahashi cruised through the first several innings — he began the eighth with his pitch count at 80 — but had to dig deep to finish off the game.
He got three straight outs after Sho Nakata reached on an error to start the eighth but began the ninth by allowing back-to-back infield singles against Seiya Matsubara and Hayato Sakamoto.
That brought Kazuma Okamoto, who leads the CL with 38 home runs, to the plate as the tying run. Takahashi got the slugger to hit a popup for the first out of the inning, but a single by Zelous Wheeler loaded the bases.
Takahashi threw a 3-2 cutter past Yoshihiro Maru to end a seven-pitch at-bat for the second out. He threw another full-count cutter to the dangerous Yoshiyuki Kamei to get the flyout that ended the game.
Takahashi struck out 13 while allowing five hits and a walk over the distance.
“I pitched with the thought that I wasn’t going to give up the first run,” he said. “I got confidence from that.”
Takahashi was making his third start of the year and it was by far his heaviest workload of the season. He threw 128 pitches on Saturday after tossing 85 in his first game two weeks ago and 95 over seven scoreless frames last week.
“We gave it our best but we couldn’t even get to second base until the last inning,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.
Sugano (5-7) was pitching just as well on the other side. He dodged an early bullet when Jefry Marte missed a two-run homer by a few meters in the first inning but was rarely in trouble after that.
He took the mound in the top of the seventh having allowed only a pair of doubles and a walk.
Sugano had Itohara facing a 2-2 count and set up for one of the two-strike sliders he gets so many outs with, but the Tigers’ batter fouled it off.
The next pitch was a fastball that Itohara pounced on and sent high and deep to right to make the score 1-0.
Sugano was back on the mound in the eighth and gave up a one-out single to Takahashi and a double to Koji Chikamoto that put runners on second and third. Nakano then ended Sugano’s day with his two-run double.
Sugano threw 7⅓ innings and was charged with three runs on six hits in the loss. He struck out six and walked one.
All five of Yomiuri’s hits were singles, with Sakamoto finishing with a pair.
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