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Saturday, Sep. 29, 2012

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Star of the night: Fighters slugger Sho Nakata crushes a two-run home run in the first inning against the Lions on Friday at Sapporo Dome. Nakata homered twice and drove in five runs in Hokkaido Nippon Ham's 5-0 victory over Seibu. KYODO

Nakata powers Fighters past Lions

Kyodo

SAPPORO — Sho Nakata has become the Seibu Lions' biggest nightmare. The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters cleanup hitter homered twice on Friday, driving in five runs and driving a wedge into the Lions' pennant pretensions.

The Fighters' 5-0 victory at Sapporo Dome boosted their Pacific League lead to three games over the Lions and lowered Nippon Ham's magic number to win the pennant to four. Nakata's big night came six days after he drove in four runs to lead the Fighters to a crucial come-from-behind victory over the Lions at Seibu Dome.

Nippon Ham lefty Mitsuo Yoshikawa (14-5) allowed two hits and a walk in his third shutout of the season. He struck out seven en route to lowering his ERA to a league-leading 1.71.

Nakata opened the scoring in the bottom of the first with a two-run homer off Ryoma Nogami (8-5), who allowed three runs in 4 1/3 innings.

"I just wanted to give us the first lead," said Nakata, who came up with two outs and a runner on first.

In the fifth inning, Nakata once more came up with two outs but this time with runners on the corners. He hit an 0-1 fastball from rookie Ken Togame and drove it high down the left-field foul line for his 23rd homer of the season.

"I got all of that one," the 23-year-old Nakata said. "I wasn't looking for any pitch in particular. I just wanted to take a full swing and hit whatever came."

Yoshikawa who lost to the Lions in the opener of their previous series, barely gave the visitors a chance.

"They made me look bad last time, so I knew I had to turn the tables on them here," said the 24-year-old southpaw, who needed just 95 pitches to go the distance. "It was a game we couldn't afford to lose, so I just focused on taking care of one batter at a time."

"Nakata's first homer gave me a big boost. After he hit his second, I knew it was my duty to go all the way."

The Fighters have five regular season games left to play, while the Lions have eight.

CENTRAL LEAGUE


Swallows 6, Tigers 3

At Jingu Stadium, Tokyo Yakult's Ryoji Aikawa drove in three runs, tying the game 3-3 in the seventh with his second RBI single, and Wladamir Balentien hit a two-run homer, his 30th, in the eighth as the Swallows came from behind to beat Hanshin.

The Swallows' victory lifted them 7 1/2 games clear of the fourth-place Hiroshima Carp in the battle for the Central League's final playoff spot.

Giants 3, BayStars 3 (9)

At Yokohama Stadium, Yomiuri's Kenji Yano drew a leadoff walk in the ninth inning and scored the tying run on a wild pitch by Yokohama closer Shun Yamaguchi, who blew a chance to record his 22nd save. Giants right-hander Satoshi Fukuda then retired the BayStars in the ninth to ensure a tie in the 3-hour, 57-minute game.

Hisayoshi Chono brought the Giants to within a run in the sixth inning with a two-run, pinch-hit single. The BayStars' Alex Ramirez drove in one of the hosts' runs with a fifth-inning infield single. Ramirez needs 11 more hits to reach 2,000 in his Japan career. Yokohama has 10 regular season games remaining this season.



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