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Baseball: Tigers hold off Giants in hot Central League pennant race

Pitcher Joe Gunkel allowed a run over six innings to post his sixth win of the season for the Hanshin Tigers in their 4-3 Central League victory over the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome on Sept. 26, 2021. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Joe Gunkel allowed a run over six innings and Yoshio Itoi hit a three-run double on Sunday as the Hanshin Tigers beat the Yomiuri Giants 4-3 in a battle of Central League pennant hopefuls.

    The Tigers, who trail the Yakult Swallows on winning percentage, .584 to .575, moved four games ahead of the third-place Giants.

    Gunkel (8-3) allowed four hits but no walks while striking out three at Tokyo Dome as the Tigers went 2-0 with one tie in their three-game series at the Giants' home ballpark.

    Yusuke Oyama opened the scoring for Hanshin, belting a third-inning solo home run, his 17th, off Shun Yamaguchi (2-7), who was yanked after walking the next batter.

    Yohei Kagiya, Yomiuri's third pitcher, took the mound in the fifth with one out and two on, and walked the bases loaded before surrendering Itoi's two-out double.

    "This was really big for us, because the Giants are a strong team we need to beat," Itoi said.

    Gunkel surrendered a run on Seiya Matsubara's 11th home run in the sixth, making it a 4-1 game. The Giants rallied for two more in the eighth against Tigers setup man Suguru Iwazaki, but were shut down in the ninth as Robert Suarez earned his 34th save.

    "I don't think we're playing all that well as a team right now, but everyone is playing hard," said manager Akihiro Yano, a key member of the Tigers' last championship team in 2005.

    At Jingu Stadium, Tetsuto Yamada hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and drove in seven runs as the Swallows beat the Chunichi Dragons 16-0, winning eight straight decisions for the first time in 10 years.

    At Yokohama Stadium, Ryosuke Kikuchi homered and drove in three runs in the Hiroshima Carp's 10-8 come-from-behind win over the DeNA BayStars.

    At MetLife Dome, Yudai Fujioka drove in four runs to pace the Pacific League's Lotte Marines to an 8-4 win over the Seibu Lions and a three-game lead over the second-place Orix Buffaloes.

    At Kyocera Dome Osaka, the Rakuten Eagles' Masahiro Tanaka allowed a run over seven innings only for his teammates to tie it in the ninth against another former major leaguer, Orix closer Yoshihisa Hirano, in their 1-1 tie.

    At PayPay Dome, Richard Sunagawa's solo home run snapped a seventh-inning tie as the SoftBank Hawks came from behind to beat the Nippon Ham Fighters 4-1. The win moved the four-time defending Japan Series champions to within 1-1/2 games of the third-place Eagles and the PL's final playoff spot.

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