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Rob Smaal

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Dragons creep up on Giants

by Rob Smaal (Jul 31, 2009)

The hard-charging Chunichi Dragons erupted for four runs in the sixth inning Thursday night at Tokyo Dome as they came from behind to record a 5-3 win over the Yomiuri Giants.

Masaaki Koike cracked a two-run home run in that fateful sixth to help starter Yudai Kawai chalk up his 11th victory this season, tying him for the Central League lead in wins with Yakult's Shohei Tateyama. Kawai allowed three runs on seven hits--three apiece by Alex Ramirez and Shinnosuke Abe--over seven innings. Takuya Asao worked a 1-2-3 eighth for Hiromitsu Ochiai's club and closer Hitoki Iwase slammed the door shut on the Giants in the ninth, allowing a single to Abe before striking out pinch-hitter Lee Seung Yeop to pick up his league-leading 30th save of the season.

The victory moved the surprising Dragons, who have been one of the hottest teams in Japanese baseball of late, to within 1 1/2 games of the CL-leading Giants. They also beat the Giants 5-3 in Tuesday's series opener to run their winning streak to nine games before falling 11-1 to Yomiuri on Wednesday.

The Giants opened the scoring in the home half of the fourth frame against left-hander Kawai, who brought a spotless 10-0 record into the game. With runners on first and second after a Ramirez single and a walk to Yoshiyuki Kamei, Yoshitomo Tani smacked a groundball back up the middle. Dragons shortstop Hirokazu Ibata smothered the ball with a fine diving stab just behind the bag, but second baseman Masahiro Araki couldn't handle the low flip and the bases were loaded with one out. Abe then stroked a two-run single up the middle.

In the top of the fifth, Araki nailed an RBI double to right-center off Giants starter Shun Tono to get one run back and a two-run homer to center in the sixth by Koike turned the tables as Chunichi jumped out to a 3-2 lead.

That was the end of Tono's night as Yomiuri skipper Tatsunori Hara brought righty Daisuke Ochi in from the bullpen. Ochi retired the first two hitters he faced before walking a pair and giving up consecutive run-scoring singles to Masahiko Morino and slugger Tony Blanco to make it 5-2.

Abe drove in his third run of the night for the Giants when he cranked a solo homer, his 13th long ball of the season, to right off Kawai to lead off the bottom of the seventh to make it a two-run game, but that was as close as they would get. Abe was 4-for-4 on the night with three singles and the home run.

Every Dragons starter, including Kawai, had at least one hit, with the exception of catcher Motonobu Tanishige. Tanishige nearly joined the club in the ninth inning, only to be robbed of a base hit on a leaping catch at the wall by center fielder Tetsuya Matsumoto.

Tono (4-6), a fifth-year right-hander, took the loss.

Elsewhere in the CL, the Hanshin Tigers shut out the Yokohama BayStars 2-0 at Koshien Stadium. At Jingu Stadium, the Hiroshima Carp clobbered the Yakult Swallows 8-3.

In the Pacific League, the Softbank Hawks defeated the Orix Buffaloes 3-1 at Yahoo Dome.


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