Baseball: Clutch pitching sees Lions close on PL's top spot

Tatsuya Imai worked six innings, as he and four relievers walked a tightrope in the Seibu Lions' 2-1 win over the Lotte Marines on Thursday, pulling them into a virtual tie with the Pacific League-leading SoftBank Hawks.

The win at Belluna Dome outside Tokyo left the Lions trailing the Hawks on winning percentage.

Imai (1-1) allowed a run on six hits and a walk while striking out six over six innings, his final strikeout stranding two runners in the sixth, after Aito Takeda's RBI single gave him a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth.

"I didn't play well in my last start, so I was determined to turn it around at home," Imai said. "(Catcher Tomoya) Mori and I talked it over and we decided to challenge batters one after another in the strike zone."

The danger continued for the Lions in the seventh. Reliever Keisuke Honda inherited two runners with no outs but pitched out of trouble and getting the final out with a good defensive play at the plate.

"Despite having runners on second and third with no outs, I did what I always strive for, focus on the batter in front of me," Honda said.

Lions reliever Kaima Taira struck out two in a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save.

The Marines opened the scoring in the fifth on Toshiya Sato's fifth home run of the season.

Elsewhere, the Orix Buffaloes edged the Hawks 3-2, and the last-place Nippon Ham Fighters beat the Rakuten Eagles 6-0 for their first five-game win streak under new manager Tsuyoshi Shinjo.

In the Central League, the coronavirus-depleted league-leading Yakult Swallows fell 4-1 to the last-place Chunichi Dragons, Hanshin Tigers' lefty Masashi Ito (6-2) threw a four-hitter in a 3-0 win over the Yomiuri Giants, and the DeNA BayStars beat the Hiroshima Carp 4-3.

© Kyodo News