YOKOHAMA — Earlier in the year the Tokyo Yakult Swallows were a team going nowhere.
Now they just won’t go away.
Yoshinori Sato delivered on the mound for 8 2/3 innings, Shingo Kawabata and Shinya Miyamoto came through at the plate, and closer Lim Chang Yong turned back a furious rally to preserve Yakult’s 3-2 win over the Yokohama BayStars on Friday at Yokohama Stadium.
“I was determined to win this game,” Sato said after his first victory over the BayStars in four chances this season. “I was doing OK until the ninth inning. In the end, I needed some help to finish the game.”
The Swallows were all but forgotten in May, when manager Shigeru Takada stepped down. Things changed when interim skipper Junji Ogawa was handed the reins.
Ogawa lit a fire under the — at that time — last-place squad, and the Swallows now find themselves improbably trailing the third-place Yomiuri Giants by five games in the race for a spot in the Central League Climax Series.
Though Yakult nearly coughed up a chance to gain ground in the standings after a dominating night by Sato fell apart in the ninth.
The Swallows starter looked to be on his way to his second career shutout after retiring the first two batters of the final frame. He then gave up two-out hits to Brett Harper and Shuichi Murata before walking Terrmel Sledge to load the bases.
The next batter, Tatsuya Shimozono, connected on a two-run single that pulled the BayStars within a run. Sato was relieved by Lim after the hit, and the Korean closer struck out Jose Castillo to end the game.
“I thought my pace was good entering the ninth,” Sato said. “But I did begin to feel a little tired after the first batter.”
Sato threw 8 2/3 innings of two-run ball, allowing six hits and striking out 11 on 139 pitches. He improved to 10-7 with the victory. Lim retired the only batter he faced for his 28th save.
“There is still a long way to go,” Sato said. “So I want to do my best and win more games.”
Kawabata led the Yakult hitters with a 3-for-4 night that included an RBI single in the fourth. Miyamoto was 2-for-2 and drove in the team’s second run with a single in the sixth. Norichika Aoki provided more breathing room with an RBI double in the eighth.
The loss was more of the same for Yokohama, which is now 38 games under .500. Harper was 2-for-3 at the plate while Shimozono was 1-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.
BayStars starter Atori Ota took the loss, falling to 0-4 after allowing two runs on six hits over six innings.
Dragons edge Giants
NAGOYA (Kyodo) Kazuki Yoshimi threw one-run ball over 5 1/3 innings, Kazuhiro Wada hit a two-run homer and the Chunichi Dragons beat the Yomiuri Giants 3-2 on Friday night to move into second place in the Central League standings.
With their fourth straight victory, the Dragons sent the struggling Giants into third and took the first game of the three-game series at Nagoya Dome.
Masahiko Morino had an RBI single to open the scoring and Wada followed with his shot — his 1,500th career hit — to left for a 3-0 cushion against Tetsuya Utsumi (8-7).
Carp 5, Tigers 4
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Jun Hirose had a two-run go-ahead double off Tomoyuki Kubota in the bottom of the seventh, rallying Hiroshima over CL leader Hanshin to snap a four-game skid.
Lions 14, Eagles 4
At Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium, Takeya Nakamura hit a grand slam in the first inning as Seibu built an early 10-0 lead against Tohoku Rakuten en route to its third straight win.
Buffaloes 11, Hawks 2
At Kobe’s Skymark Stadium, Alex Cabrera and Takahiro Okada homered and drove in three runs apiece to back a complete-game effort by Shinya Nakayama (2-2) as Orix trounced Fukuoka Softbank.
Fighters 4, Marines 1
At Chiba Marine Stadium, Brian Wolfe (2-3) allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings in his first start in Japan, leading Hokkaido Nippon Ham over Chiba Lotte.
Atsunori Inaba hit a two-run homer in the third off Yuji Yoshimi (6-6). Kensuke Tanaka went 3-for-5 with two RBIs. Hisashi Takeda got the final out for his 13th save.