If there was any thought the Hiroshima Carp might take their foot off the gas a little after gaining a magic number, the Central League leaders squashed it the first chance they got.
Ryosuke Kikuchi drove in a game-tying run with a two-out infield single in the ninth and Yoshihiro Maru pushed across the go-ahead tally later in the inning as the Carp beat the Yomiuri Giants 6-4 in front of a crowd of 45,026 on Thursday night at Tokyo Dome.
“As they say, the game isn’t over until the final out,” Maru said.
Hiroshima extended its lead in the Central League standings to nine games over the second-place Giants as their magic number to win the pennant dropped to 18.
The Carp trailed 4-0 early but began chipping away at the lead during the latter half of the game. Hiroshima scored runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to enter the ninth down by one. The Carp put a runner on third against closer Hirokazu Sawamura, but were down to their final out when Kikuchi stepped to the plate.
The Hiroshima infielder hit a sharp grounder to third and slid head-first into first base as pinch runner Masato Akamatsu scored the tying run. The boistrous red-clad fans in the Carp’s sizeable cheering section exploded as their team pulled even and didn’t even get a chance to settle down before Maru laced a triple into right field that brought Kikuchi around as the tiebreaking run.
“I thought I would get a strike and I got the green light so I was ready to swing,” said Maru, who got his hit on a 3-0 pitch. “I got around on it really well.”
Takahiro Arai added an RBI single up the middle for good measure later in the inning. Closer Shota Nakazaki retired the Giants in order in the bottom of the ninth to seal the victory.
“The previous batter, Kikuchi, got the hit to tie the game and gave me a chance to bat,” Maru said. “So I wanted to make the best of it and give us a lead.”
Reliver Ryuji Ichioka (1-1) picked up the win in relief and Nakazaki earned his 26th save of the season. Sawamura (4-3) was charged with the loss.
The Carp are trying to capture their first CL pennant since 1991, the final year of the franchise’s golden era. The second-place Giants gained a little ground in the race when the Carp got off to a slow start this month. But after losing four straight from Aug. 3-6, Hiroshima has taken firm control of the pennant chase. The Carp are 12-3 since Aug. 7, and beginning to close in on the seventh pennant in franchise history.
“We’ll keep trying to lower the magic number until it gets to zero,” Maru said. “It’s been a long time since the Carp won a pennant, so we’ll keep fighting until the end.”
Hiroshima outhit Yomiuri 14-8 with Kosuke Tanaka leading the way with two singles and a double. Kikuchi finished 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs and Maru was 2-for-4. Seiya Suzuki, who drove in two runs, also had a pair of hits, including his 19th home run of the season. Arai was 1-for-5.
The Giants got all their runs in the third inning on an RBI double by CL batting leader Hayato Sakamoto and a three-run homer by Shuichi Murata, his 17th of the season.
The Carp began to dig out of the four-run hole in the sixth. Arai hit into a force play during the inning but later scored the 1,000th run of his career on an RBI single from Suzuki, making the score 4-1.
Tanaka picked up his third hit of the night with a two-out double in the seventh and scored on a single by Kikuchi that made the score 4-2.
Suzuki pulled the Carp within one with his home run in the eighth, setting up the heroics in the top of the ninth.
The Carp will try to take another step toward the pennant on Friday, when they begin a three-game road series against the last-place Chunichi Dragons. Hiroshima is 10-5-1 against Chunichi this year. Yusuke Nomura (12-3) gets the ball for the Carp, while the Dragons will counter with Tomoya Yagi, who will be making his season debut.
Hanshin routs BayStars
Randy Messenger (11-8) allowed a run in six innings, and Shun Takayama drove in six runs with a grand slam and a two-run double as the Hanshin Tigers whipped the Yokohama BayStars 9-3 on Thursday in the Central League.
Hanshin moved within a half-game of the third-place BayStars.
Swallows 10, Dragons 9 (11)
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Wladimir Balentien homered twice and drove in seven runs as Tokyo Yakult overturned a five-run deficit.
Chunichi tied it in the ninth only to see the Swallows win it in the 11th on a walk, a sacrifice, a groundout and a wild pitch.
Fighters 4, Marines 1
At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Hirotoshi Masui (5-3), who began the season as Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s closer, threw a five-hitter for his first career complete game to complete a three-game sweep of Chiba Lotte that pushed the Fighters into first place.
Eagles 7, Hawks 5
At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, Golden Glove center fielder Yuki Yanagita failed to make a shoe-string, run-saving catch on sinking liner to short center in the ninth inning, and Hiromi Mogi was generously credited with a three-run, inside-the-park home run as Tohoku Rakuten came from behind to win.
Fukuoka SoftBank fell out of first place for the first time since April 18.