Baseball: Yasuhiro Ogawa throws Swallows past Hawks in the leaders’ duel

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Yasuhiro Ogawa of the Yakult Swallows throws a pitch during an interleague baseball game against the SoftBank Hawks at PayPay Dome in Fukuoka, southwest Japan on June 10, 2022. (kyodo)

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) — Yasuhiro Ogawa threw himself out of the jams to go seven innings, and the Yakult Swallows’ two big boppers each hit a homer as the Central League league leaders in Friday’s interleague game those in the Pacific League leading SoftBank Hawks 3-1.

The win in the PayPay Dome secured the Swallows’ five-game CL lead over the Yomiuri Giants and their two-game Interleague lead over the Hanshin Tigers, both of whom won on Friday.

The Swallows can win the Interleague Championship by winning either of their two remaining games in Fukuoka.

Ogawa (4-3) worked aggressively from the start, and the Hawks came out and hammered his pitches in the strike zone. But he survived that onslaught to play seven innings and claim the win.

“In my mind, I knew this was an important game, but beyond that, our opponents are pretty strong, so my intention was just to follow them and attack,” said Ogawa.

The right-hander allowed nine hits but no walks as he defeated the hard-throwing Kodai Senga (4-3). The Hawks ace gave up two runs with six hits, two walks and one hit batsman while batting nine.

The Swallows scored in the first goal after Senga knocked down two batters in a row. He beat Tetsuto Yamada with one throw, with singles from Munetaka Murakami and Tomotaka Sakaguchi bringing home the first run.

The Hawks, however, jabbed the ball early. Ukyo Shuto and Taisei Makihara scored individually to put runners in the corners, and Shuto scored when the Hawks’ biggest hitter, Yuki Yanagita, smacked the ball hard into a double as the tie hit.

With two ons and two outs in the third and still 1-1, Ogawa beat veteran Akira Nakamura in a hard at-bat to end the inning before Murakami put Yakult ahead.

“I was able to find another gear and focus on making my pitches (to get out of trouble),” said Ogawa, who then found his rhythm and drove through most of his last four innings.

Murakami, the Swallows cleanup hitter, opened the top of fourth with his 17th home run, while Yamada gave Yakult some breathing room with his 13th home run of the year, aside from reliever Koya Fujii.

Setup man Noboru Shimizu worked around a few steps in game eight while Yakult shot player Scott McGough made his 19th save with a 1-2-3-9.

The Giants defeated the PL’s second-place Rakuten Eagles 4-1, while the Tigers defeated the PL’s Orix Buffaloes 6-1. Third-place finisher Hiroshima Carp also defeated the Seibu Lions 6-3.

Two PL teams earned 2-1 wins, the Lotte Marines defeated the DeNA BayStars and the Nippon Ham Fighters got past the Chunichi Dragons in 11 innings.

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