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Baseball: Lions relievers hold the fort in big win over Fighters

Yusei Kikuchi of the Seibu Lions (Kyodo)

TOKOROZAWA (Kyodo) -- Yusei Kikuchi battled for 6-2/3 innings, and two relievers saw the Seibu Lions to a 4-3, come-from-behind victory over the Nippon Ham Fighters on Friday.

In the first game of a three-game series at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo between the Pacific League's top two teams, relievers Katsunori Hirai (2-1) and Deunte Heath retired the last seven batters to increase Seibu's lead to 3-1/2 games.

With the Lions trailing 3-1, Hirai entered with two outs and a runner on second, and needed just four pitches to get the Lions out of the inning.

"Yusei hung in and battled for us. He and I are the same age, you know, and I was determined to have his back and keep them from scoring," said Hirai, who retired the heart of the Fighters batting order in the eighth after the Lions scored three times in the bottom of the seventh.

"We'd come from behind and this was where we absolutely needed to hold them."

Heath, who was signed in May after starting the season with a Japanese independent minor league team, struck out all three batters he faced to earn his first save in Japan since four in 2015 with the Hiroshima Carp.

"It was my first save and a big win for the team," Heath said. "I feel good and I'm glad I was throwing strikes and on the same page with the catcher. We have good starting pitching a great bullpen and the hitters are putting a lot of runs on the board and keeping us in the game."

A pair of hard-hit singles that just missed infielders gloves for singles and some sharp base running by rotund slugger Takeya Nakamura got the Lions started in the seventh against Fighters starter Naoki Uwasawa.

Nakamura singled, alertly went to third on Shogo Saito's single and scored on Takumi Kuriyama's pinch-hit sacrifice fly off lefty reliever Naoki Miyanishi (2-1). Shogo Akiyama walked and a crisp single from Sosuke Genda loaded the bases with one out.

Miyanishi then got the next batter to hit a grounder to short, but second baseman Kazunari Ishii failed to complete the double play with a wild throw to first as two runs scored.

Uwasawa dominated the Lions lineup with his sharp-breaking curve through 2-2/3 innings, when he hung one to Ginjiro Sumitani who slammed a double into the left field corner. Akiyama followed by driving a high fastball into the gap in right for an RBI double.

Kikuchi held the Fighters scoreless for three innings, but he ran up his pitch count as he worked his way out of jams. The lefty surrendered the lead in the fourth, when the first three batters reached.

Brandon Laird followed Sho Nakata's leadoff single with his 23rd home run, teeing off on a high floating curveball. Oswaldo Arcia singled, was sacrificed to second and scored on Yushi Shimizu's single to make it 3-1.

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Hawks 5, Buffaloes 3

At Yafuoku Dome, Rick van den Hurk (7-7) allowed two runs in six innings, while Nobuhiro Matsuda capped a three-run fourth inning with his 19th home run, a two-run shot as SoftBank handed Orix its fourth straight loss.

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Marines 2, Eagles 1, 10 innings

At Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, after Daichi Suzuki singled with one out in the 10th, Rakuten shortstop Eigoro Mogi missed a routine grounder, sending the lead runner to third, from where he scored the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly by Lotte catcher Tatsuhiro Tamura.

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Central League

Dragons 4, Giants 3

At Nagoya Dome, Chunichi broke a 3-3, ninth-inning tie without a hit as Yomiuri reliever Hirokazu Sawamura (1-4) issued a leadoff walk and put runners on the corners with a throwing error. After intentionally walking the bases loaded to get a force out at home, the right-hander walked Yohei Oshima to bring across the winning run.

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BayStars 7, Carp 6, 11 innings,

At Yokohama Stadium, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo had five hits and scored his second run to win it in on Toshihiko Kuramoto's sayonara single that lifted DeNA over Hiroshima. BayStars pitcher Joe Wieland pinch hit with two outs and drew a walk to keep the inning alive and bring Kuramoto to the plate.

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