The Hanshin Tigers’ win over the Yomiuri Giants in a thrilling 10-inning, five-hour affair left one radio announcer speechless on Sunday at Tokyo Dome.

News photoThe Hanshin Tigers have relied on reliever Kyuji Fujikawa to help stage an incredible rally to the top of
the Central League standings.

The Tigers’ run over the past two months has probably left their fans feeling the same way.

An announcer was replaced after losing his voice in the 10th inning in the finale of a series that saw the surging Tigers replace the Giants at the top of the Central League standings and extend their winning streak to 10 games for the first time in 25 years.

The Hiroshima Carp beat the Tigers 9-0 on Tuesday, ending the streak.

“We’re in first place but we still have a long way to go,” Tigers third baseman Andy Sheets said. “There’s still a lot of games to play.”

Hanshin has been baseball’s hottest team since late June, when the club was in fourth place and an afterthought in the CL pennant race.

The Tigers were 12 games behind the first-place Giants on June 23 and looked as if they would face an uphill battle just to surpass the Yokohama BayStars for the third and final spot in the CL Climax Series.

Since then the Tigers have gone 39-18-2, the best record in Japanese baseball over that period.

At the center of Hanshin’s turnaround has been closer Kyuji Fujikawa, who tied a CL pitching record with his 10th consecutive appearance on Sunday night. The Hanshin fireballer has seven saves and two wins during that span.

Fujikawa also currently leads both leagues with 40 saves. His previous career-high for consecutive appearances came two seasons ago when he pitched in eight straight games.

“I feel tired a little bit, especially in the bottom half of my body,” Fujikawa told Nikkan Sports on Sunday. “But my arm is OK.”

The Tigers capped their two-month climb in the standings in dramatic fashion with a string of one-run triumphs from Sept. 5-9 that each required late-inning heroics.

On Sept. 5, Fujikawa allowed one run in the ninth before nailing down the save in a 3-2 win against Yokohama.

The next night Sheets drove in the winning run in the ninth in a 1-0 victory over the BayStars.

On Friday, Shinjiro Hiyama homered off Yomiuri closer Koji Uehara in the ninth to give Hanshin a 9-8 win in a back-and-forth game that saw the Osaka club overcome seven Giants home runs.

Despite three tense games the Tigers were calm before Saturday night’s contest against the Giants.

“We will be in first place if we win,” Hanshin outfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto said before game. “We’re not nervous at all. We feel good.”

Hanshin won that game 2-1 behind a strong effort from starter Yuya Ando (1-0), who took a perfect game into the sixth in just his second start of the season, and Ikuro Katsuragi, who belted a go-ahead homer in the seventh.

“Their pitcher was good,” Giants outfielder Damon Hollins said after the game. “He was filthy out there.”

On Sunday, Hanshin won its fifth consecutive one-run game, outlasting the Giants in a contest that lasted 5 hours and 4 minutes and featured three ties, a bench-clearing incident and the Tigers getting to Uehara again in a two-run 10th inning.

With a comfortable 9-game lead over the fourth-place BayStars, the Tigers can seemingly begin to look toward the postseason.

A first-place finish means Hanshin will host the winner of the Stage 1 matchup, (between the second and third place CL teams) in a series to decide the league title.

A second-place finish means the Tigers will face the Stage 1 series and a third-place result puts the team on the road for those games.

“Of course you want to finish in first,” Hanshin pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (7-4) said. “But it might work out if we finish second. You get that first series at home and then you’re in the (CL) championship. You don’t have that long break (from the end of the season until the second playoff series).

“It’s the same in the NBA playoffs when one team sweeps and the other team goes seven.

“Is it better to have that rest or keep playing?

“The way we’re playing right now, you want to keep playing.”

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