If this was a dress rehearsal for a potential showdown in Stage 1 of the Central League Climax Series, the Chunichi Dragons showed why they deserve top billing.
Masahiko Morino homered and drove in three runs while Kazuhiro Wada finished with two RBIs in support of Kenta Asakura to help the Dragons defeat the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 7-5 on Friday night at Jingu Stadium.
The Dragons snapped a three-game skid with the victory but had to hold off a Yakult rally in order to do it.
Closer Hitoki Iwase, the NPB’s active leader in saves (230), began the ninth inning with a 7-4 lead but quickly pitched himself into a jam.
After allowing hits to the first two batters of the frame, Iwase walked Ryo Yoshimoto to load the bases. Kazuhiro Hatakeyama followed with a deep sacrifice fly.
“I thought it was gone,” Swallows manager Shigeru Takada said afterward. “It was meters away. It was very close.”
Iwase then walked Hiroyasu Tanaka to reload the bases before being relieved by Takuya Asao. The Dragons reliever quickly retired Tomohito Yoneno to preserve the win and earn a one-pitch save, his first this year.
“It’s good that we didn’t give up until the very end,” Takada said.
Morino homered for the fourth time in five games, finishing 3-for-4. The Dragons third baseman, who hit 19 home runs last year, has 21 homers so far this season.
The Dragons and Swallows appear likely to meet in the first stage of the Central League Climax Series with the second-place Dragons leading the Swallows by nine games in the standings.
“It’s too early to think about that,” Wada said. “We’re not worried about that at all. We just have to keep doing our best in the rest of our games.”
Right fielder Aaron Guiel hit a pair of homers for the Swallows, but it wasn’t enough to lift the slumping team to a victory.
Yakult is currently third in the CL standings and leads the Hanshin Tigers by 5 1/2 games for the final postseason slot. The Swallows have lost three straight games and five out of their last six.
“We are in bad shape right now,” Takada said.
“I hope we have already hit the bottom so that the only way to go now is up.”
A fine effort in the field by the Dragons supported a pedestrian outing by Asakura, who won his ninth game of the season. Asakura (9-6) allowed two runs on six hits, struck out two, walked two and hit a batter.
Yakult starter Yuki Tanaka struggled almost from the outset, giving up an RBI single to Morino in the first before being tagged with three runs in the third. Tanaka (3-4) lasted four innings, allowing six runs — three earned — on nine hits.
“He wasn’t good,” Takada said. “He has been good for us in some games. I thought Yuki could keep us in the game, but he couldn’t.”
Dragons second baseman Masahiro Araki nearly homered in the first inning, settling for a double. He was driven home by Morino to put Chunichi ahead 1-0.
Araki made the score 2-0 with an RBI single in the third and a two-run single by Wada left the Dragons with a comfortable advantage.
Guiel cut the lead in half with a two-run homer in the bottom half of the inning, making the score 4-2.
Araki hit an RBI single in the fourth and Morino drove in a run with a double to stretch the lead back to four. The Dragons added another run in the seventh on Morino’s solo homer.
Guiel struck again in the seventh, hitting his second home run of the game to make the score 7-3. Yasushi Iihara trimmed the lead to three with a homer in the eighth.
Tigers top Giants
NISHINOMIYA , Hyogo Pref. (Kyodo) Keisuke Kano hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning as the Hanshin Tigers rallied past the Yomiuri Giants en route to a 5-1 win on Friday.
BayStars 4, Carp 1
At Yokohama Stadium, Shigeru Morikasa had a tying sacrifice fly and Dan Johnson followed with a go-ahead RBI single in the third as Yokohama beat Hiroshima.
Buffaloes 1, Lions 0
At Kobe’s Skymark Stadium, Mamoru Kishida struck out 11 in his second shutout of the season as Orix beat Saitama Seibu.
Kishida (7-2) faced only one batter over the minimum, scattering three hits and walking none.
Fighters 3, Hawks 1
At Sapporo Dome, Shinji Takahashi hit a two-run homer and five relievers combined for 4 2/3 scoreless innings as Hokkaido Nippon Ham beat Fukuoka Softbank.
Eagles 2, Marines 1