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Baseball: Higashihama goes seven as Hawks blank Eagles

Nao Higashihama of SoftBank Hawks. (Kyodo)

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) -- Nao Higashihama threw seven innings to win his sixth straight start as the SoftBank Hawks beat the Rakuten Eagles 5-0 on Saturday to solidify their hold on the Pacific League lead.

    Higashihama (8-1) allowed four hits, two walks and hit a batter while striking out seven. The right-hander survived a shaky fourth inning to protect his early one-run lead.

    The Eagles loaded the bases on two one-out walks and a Stefen Romero single, but the right-hander had enough on his pitches to get out of the inning on two easy outs.

    "I took the mound with the team having won six straight, and I wanted to ride that as well as I could today," said Higashihama, who started on Opening Day but was up and down for the season's first two months.

    "I really wasn't that good today, but Takuya (catcher Takuya Kai) called a game that got the most of what I had, and I'm grateful to him."

    Yuki Yanagita opened the scoring in the first inning, hitting his 27th home run off Ryota Ishibashi (1-5), who allowed all five runs over five innings.

    Moments after Higashihama made his great escape, Yurisbel Gracial pounced, leading off the bottom of the fourth with his 10th home run. Ryoya Kurihara turned the game into a rout in the fifth with a two-out three-run double.

    With the second-place Lotte Marines rained out, the Hawks' win over the third-place Eagles increased SoftBank's lead to 4-1/2 games.

    At MetLife Dome, Chang Yi (2-2) struck out eight over six scoreless innings, while Steven Moya hit a two-run homer in the Orix Buffaloes' 4-1 win over the Seibu Lions.

    In the Central League, back-to-back two-out two-run singles off Hiroshima Carp closer Geronimo Franzua lifted the Chunichi Dragons to a 5-2 win at Hiroshima's Mazda Stadium. Franzua entered with one out and two men on in the eighth but surrendered the lead when Toshiki Abe bounced a single through the infield.

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