TOKYO (Kyodo) – Rookie Yasunobu Okugawa enabled a 6-2 / 3 innings run to claim victory as the Central League-top Yakult Swallows played a streak of three games with the runner-up Hanshin Tigers with a 4th : 1 win opened on Friday.
Yakult’s seventh win in a row after a three-game sweep of the third-placed Yomiuri Giants brought them three games ahead of Hanshin. The swallows hunt their first pennant since 2015, while the Tigers’ last title came in 2005.
At Jingu Stadium, Okugawa (9-3) lacked his usual ability to swing clubs and fail, but he threw punches nonetheless. The right-hander allowed four hits and a step, while in a matchup with tough left-hander Haruto Takahashi of the Tigers he only hit two (3-2).
“The team sees this week as a mountain in our path,” said Okugawa. “I was good at the beginning, but in the end I left the rescuers with a dangerous situation.
The Swallows ended Takahashi’s offer for a third straight shutout in the first inning when Tetsuto Yamada hit Murakami from the start with a double from Munetaka. Naomichi Nishiura’s home run made it 2-0 in the second round.
Yusuke Oyama brought Hanshin onto the board with the Tigers’ first hit, a solo home run in the fourth inning. Takahashi allowed back-to-back singles to open the Swallows’ fifth place, and Yasutaka Shiomi’s one-out single took both runners.
Okugawa left with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning after running his only batter of the game. With the tieing runs on base, lefty reliever Kazuto Taguchi beat pinch-hitter Yoshio Itoi on a check swing to end the inning.
Swallow’s setup man Noboru Shimizu worked a 1-2-3 eight before closer Scott McGough threw a goalless ninth to mark his 27th save.
At Mazda Stadium, Shogo Sakakura’s RBI single grabbed a fifth inning draw as fourth-placed Hiroshima Carp gave the Giants their fourth straight 6-2 defeat.
At Yokohama Stadium, Keita Sano hit a solo homer in the first inning and a grand slam in the second inning when the DeNA BayStars came from behind to beat the Chunichi Dragons 9-3.
At the Sapporo Dome, Nippon Ham Fighters rookie Kazuaki Tateno (4-1) beat seven over six innings when four pitchers together scored a four goal 9-0 against runner-up Lotte Marines of the Pacific League, who fell two games behind Orix Buffaloes
At the MetLife Dome, reserve infielder Haruka Yamada put the Seibu Lions in the lead with an RBI singles in the eighth inning in their 6-2 win over fourth-placed SoftBank Hawks. The four-time Japan Series defending champions have lost seven games in a row for the first time in nine years.