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Baseball: Swallows inch toward title in riveting tie with Tigers

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mainichi– The Central League-leading Yakult Swallows tied the second-place Hanshin Tigers 0-0 in a scintillating pitcher’s duel on Wednesday that trimmed Yakult’s magic number to clinch the pennant to three.

In the final regular-season meeting between the clubs, Tigers right-hander Joe Gunkel was razor sharp as he struck out nine while allowing four singles but no walks over 7-2/3 innings at Koshien Stadium. Three of his strikeouts came against cleanup hitter Munetaka Murakami, whose 39 home runs are tied for the league lead.

Swallows lefty Keiji Takahashi was nearly as good, striking out eight over seven innings while allowing four singles and hitting a batter. Setup man Noboru Shimizu struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth.

Tigers setup man Suguru Iwazaki took over with two outs in the Swallows’ eighth and stranded a runner. Closer Robert Suarez stranded a runner in the ninth to prevent Swallows from possibly securing a win, but Yakult closer Scott McGough got the final two outs with the potential winning run on second base.

The Tigers, chasing their first CL pennant since 2005, can only hope the Swallows lose some of their remaining six games.

“We have to win, because we’re in a tough spot,” Tigers manager Akihiro Yano said. “We can’t do anything to change this tie result, but we can keep playing good ball in our remaining games.”

“His (Gunkel’s) control was good, his pitches moved, and he really stepped up in big spots. We need to score but I believe our approach is diligent and sound.”

At Yokohama Stadium, Yoshihiro Maru hit a tie-breaking seventh-inning home run in a 3-2 win over the DeNA BayStars that edged the third-place Giants closer to securing the CL’s final playoff spot. The win snapped a 13-game winless streak that included 10 losses.

At Kyocera Dome Osaka, Takahiro Norimoto (11-5) allowed two runs over eight innings while striking out seven for the third-place Rakuten Eagles in a 5-2 win over the Pacific League-leading Orix Buffaloes. The Buffaloes now trail the second-place Lotte Marines on winning percentage .553 to .551.

At MetLife Dome, Haruka Yamada’s three-run second-inning double brought the Seibu Lions from behind in a 7-5 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters, who dropped below the Lions into the PL cellar.