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Baseball Japan Series: Takahashi, Matsuda lift Hawks past Giants in Game 2

Rei Takahashi of the SoftBank Hawks (Kyodo)

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) -- Rei Takahashi threw seven scoreless innings and Nobuhiro Matsuda hit a three-run home run as the SoftBank Hawks beat the Yomiuri Giants 6-3 in Sunday's Japan Series Game 2.

With their 14th straight Japan Series victory at Yafuoku Dome, the Pacific League's Hawks take the series to Tokyo Dome for Game 3 on Tuesday, two wins away from their third straight Japan Series championship.

The Giants, trying to be the Central League's first champs since 2012, have to win four of the remaining five games.

Takahashi, a submarine right-hander, dueled Giants southpaw Cristopher Mercedes for six scoreless innings. Neither pitcher allowed a base runner until Matsuda singled with two outs in the bottom of the fifth.

Mercedes allowed one hit and issued a pair of walks while striking out three, but the Giants bullpen stumbled at the first hurdle. After an error and a Yurisbel Gracial run-and-hit single against new pitcher Kan Otake, Matsuda put the Hawks in front with one swing.

"When I was on deck, I was riveted by Gracial's at-bat, and was probably more nervous about that than my own," Matsuda said. "He did a good job of hitting and that helped me go to the plate in a good frame of mind."

Takahashi, who went 12-6 and is a strong candidate to win the Pacific League's Rookie of the Year Award, was perfect until he hit the leadoff batter in the sixth. Although he struck out five, he also caught a couple of breaks thanks to good defense behind him and a lucky double play to end the sixth.

The Giants put two on in the top of the seventh, but Takahashi retired veteran star Shinnosuke Abe to end the threat and keep the game scoreless.

"Rei was just outstanding," Hawks skipper Kimiyasu Kudo said. "His concentration and control were better than what he showed us in the regular season. The way the game was going, I had the idea of a no-hitter in the back of my mind, but then after he gave up a hit, Matsuda homered and so everything worked out fine."

Otake, an 18-year veteran making his Japan Series debut, was not helped when third baseman Yasuhiro Yamamoto fumbled his first chance after entering the game for defense to open the inning. With pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto on, Gracial's run-and-hit single put runners on the corners with no outs for Matsuda.

A 14-year pro and team captain, Matsuda blasted a high 2-0 pitch well over the dome's impressively high and deep center field wall. Right-hander Toshiki Sakurai prevented further damage in the inning.

But after Hawks lefty Livan Moinelo worked a 1-2-3 eighth, Yuki Yanagita homered off Sakurai in the bottom of the inning to make it 4-0. Sakurai walked the next batter, and lefty Kyosuke Takagi served up a two-run pinch-hit homer to Shuhei Fukuda.

SoftBank's Jumpei Takahashi retired one batter while walking the bases loaded in the ninth. With closer Yuito Mori on the mound, the Giants broke up the shutout when cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto drove a pitch to the warning track. He was credited with driving in one run, while another scored as he was run out on the bases.

Abe singled to make it 6-3 but Mori retired the next batter to end the game.

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