Ryoji Aikawa sliced a two-run triple down the right-field line Friday night at Jingu Stadium as the Yakult Swallows rolled to their sixth straight Central League win.
Aikawa's sixth-inning semi-bloop fly ball to right gave Yakult a 3-1 victory over the Hanshin Tigers, who are nipping at the heels of the first-place Yomiuri Giants in a tight CL race.
"I think the wind might have affected that ball," said catcher Aikawa of his timely triple. "My main job is to call a good game behind the plate. If I can contribute some key hits then so much the better."
Lefty Masanori Ishikawa (4-8) got the win for Yakult, limiting the Tigers to one run on five hits through seven innings. He also got the Swallows' first hit of the night when he slapped a single up the middle off Tigers starter Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi with two out in the fifth inning.
Reliever Kenichi Matsuoka threw a 1-2-3 eighth for Yakult and Swallows closer Lim Chang-yong retired Hanshin's 4-5-6 hitters in order in the ninth to nail down his 19th.
The teams traded runs in the first inning. Matt Murton's RBI single to center in the top of the first put Hanshin up 1-0 but, after Shimoyanagi loaded the bases on two walks and a hit-by-pitch, a sacrifice fly to right off the bat of Kazuhiro Hatakeyama squared things up in the bottom half.
The score remained deadlocked until the home half of the sixth. With two out and two men on, Aikawa flared a looping fly ball down the right-field line off Shimoyanagi. Hanshin right-fielder Murton made a nice effort on the play, but as he slid to try and make the catch the ball skipped past him and ended up in the corner as both men on base came around to score.
Shimoyanagi, a 42-year-old left-hander, saw his record even out at 5-5. He allowed three runs on four hits, three walks and one hit batter over six innings.
The game marked the first start for veteran Hanshin outfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto since April 18 in Yokohama, when his record streak of playing in 1,492 games without missing an inning came to an end. The 42-year-old Kanemoto played left field and went 0-for-4 at the plate Friday, including flying out to left off Lim to end the game. Kanemoto is hitting just .212 this season.
Swallows shortstop Atsushi Fujimoto, in his first year with Yakult after spending the previous nine seasons with Hanshin, had a night he'd just as soon forget. The veteran infielder was charged with three errors over the first two frames and grounded out to second in his only at-bat before Swallows skipper Junji Ogawa gave him the hook in the third inning.
Elsewhere in the CL, the Chunichi Dragons blanked the Hiroshima Carp 4-0 at Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium.