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Baseball: Nakata, Laird bat Fighters past league-leading Lions

Sho Nakata of the Nippon Ham Fighters hits a home run against the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome in Tokorozawa, on Aug. 17, 2018 (Kyodo)

TOKOROZAWA, Japan (Kyodo) -- A pair of big at-bats by Sho Nakata and Brandon Laird against tiring lefty Yusei Kikuchi lifted the Nippon Ham Fighters to a 5-3 win against the Pacific League-leading Seibu Lions on Friday.

Amid talk this week of his being posted to the major leagues this autumn, Kikuchi was left in too long, and blew a one-run lead in the seventh inning. Kikuchi (9-3) allowed four runs, three earned, on 11 hits and a walk. He struck out eight over his seven-inning, 127-pitch stint.

With two outs in the seventh and the tying run on third, Kikuchi went up against the heart of the Fighters order for the fourth time, and three straight singles -- by Kensuke Kondo, Nakata and Laird -- put the visitors in front at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo.

Kondo singled to tie it, and a solid at-bat from Nakata put the go-ahead run at second.

"He is having a great season," Laird said of Nakata, who hit his 21st home run of the season in the ninth. "He had a great at-bat to get me to the plate and hit a big home run in the ninth."

Laird, who came to the plate having gone 0-for-3 so far in the game and 6-for-37 in his career against Kikuchi, admitted he didn't like his chances.

"I was a little nervous. I'm not going to lie," said Laird. "Kikuchi's a good pitcher and I was just trying to get a pitch I could put into play. Fortunately he left a changeup up and I got a hit. I was excited. To see the whole dugout jumping up and down -- and to that against Seibu, who we're trying to catch in the pennant race -- feels good."

The win trimmed the Lions' lead over the second-place Fighters to 4-1/2 games. Seibu is trying to win its first PL pennant since 2008, while the Fighters, who lost star Shohei Ohtani to the major leagues this season, are looking to recover the title they last held in 2016.

The Fighters put Kikuchi on the hot seat from the start, and though he pitched out of a two-on, one-out jam in the first, the visitors opened the scoring in the second. Ryo Watanabe hit a solo homer, while Takuya Nakashima singled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Haruki Nishikawa's two-out double.

The Lions tied it on solo home runs by Hotaka Yamakawa in the second and Takeya Nakamura in the fifth. Yamakawa's blast was his sixth homer in seven games and his Japan-best 35th of the season.

Seibu took the lead against rookie Mizuki Hori in the sixth, when Yuji Kaneko manufactured a run. The Lions No. 9 hitter led off with a single, stole his 22nd base of the season, went to third on a fly out and scored on Sosuke Genda's sacrifice fly.

But Kikuchi gave up a leadoff single to Nakashima in the seventh. With two outs, Nakashima on third and having thrown 110 pitches, he withered when facing the heart of the Fighter's batting order.

Hori allowed three runs on three hits and a walk over 5-2/3 innings but did not figure in the decision. He left the game with two on and two outs in the sixth, and fellow rookie Takahiro Nishimura (2-2) got the win after retiring the only batter he faced.

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Marines 1, Eagles 0

At Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, Lotte's Kota Futaki (3-3) allowed two singles, walked three and struck out six en route to his first career shutout. Rakuten wasted seven scoreless innings from starter Takahiro Shiomi as reliever Koji Aoyama (2-1) loaded the bases with one out in the eighth before Lotte's run scored on a groundout.

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Hawks 9, Buffaloes 0

At Kyocera Dome, Kodai Senga (9-4) struck out nine without issuing a walk in a six-hit shutout, and Nobuhiro Matsuda gave SoftBank all the runs it would need against Orix with his two-run, second-inning home run.

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Central League

BayStars 7, Carp 5

At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA overturned a three-run, eighth-inning deficit when Yoshitomo Tsutsugo followed three-straight, two-out singles with a grand slam. Toshiro Miyazaki and Neftali Soto took out additional insurance by following with solo home runs in DeNA's win over Hiroshima.

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Dragons 6, Giants 1

At Tokyo Dome, Shotaro Kasahara (2-3) allowed a run over seven solid innings, while Yohei Oshima and Dayan Viciedo hit back-to-back RBI singles to break up a 1-1, fifth-inning tie in Chunichi's win over Yomiuri.

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Swallows 3, Tigers 2

At Jingu Stadium, David Buchanan (9-8) allowed two runs over six innings, and Wladimir Balentien drove in two runs as Yakult edged Hanshin.

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