Everything was set up for the Hiroshima Carp to lose.
That is, until the reigning Central League champions used a barrage of ninth-inning home runs to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Xavier Batista and Ryosuke Kikuchi hit solo home runs, and Ryuhei Matsuyama doubled in another run before reigning CL MVP Takahiro Arai added the coup de grace of a six-run frame with a two-out come-from-behind pinch-hit three-run home run that helped lift the Carp to a 9-8 win over the Swallows on Friday night at Jingu Stadium.
“I hit it on the sweetspot, so I thought it might get out,” Arai said.
The Carp trailed for virtually the entire game, taking their only lead on Arai’s drive against Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa in the ninth.
“It was crazy,” said reliever Jay Jackson (2-2), who pitched the eighth inning with his team down by five runs and left the stadium as the winning pitcher. “You don’t see things like that happen too often. Just the fact that we were able to rally like that, especially as the last couple of runs were scored were with two outs. That guy is a really good pitcher, it was just one of those days. It’s baseball.”
The night had first belonged to Swallows star Tetsuto Yamada, who had driven in four runs to help Yakult enter the ninth with an 8-3 advantage. Yakult manager Mitsuru Manaka sent Ogawa (4-3), who is normally a starter and is a two-time All-Star (including this season), to the mound to close things out.
The Carp, of course, had other plans, especially after Batista crushed the first pitch of the inning for a home run. Kosuke Tanaka grounded out to first, but Kikuchi followed with his solo shot, which made the score 8-5. Yoshihiro Maru drew a walk, and Matsuyama drove him in with a two-out double later in the inning. Ryoma Nishikawa followed with a single, and Carp manager Koichi Ogata sent up Arai to pinch-hit for Jackson.
“Everybody had done their part, and I just wanted to do something to keep it going in that at-bat,” Arai said.
He did more than that, blasting a three-run home run to center to put Hiroshima ahead 9-8.
Takeru Imamura retired the Swallows, including Yamada, in order in the ninth to nail down the save to the delight of the delirious red-clad fans who had taken over the left side of the stadium, and the utter disbelief of the Yakult fans.
“We were the visitors, but we had a lot of fans and a lot of support,” Arai sad. “I’m thankful for that.”
The Swallows slumped to a sixth straight defeat, with Ogawa taking the loss after allowing six runs in the ninth.
Perhaps the only positive for Yakult was that Yamada continued to show signs of busting out of the slump he’s been mired in, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs, and finishing a triple short of the cycle. Tomotaka Sakaguchi finished with two RBIs, while Wladimir Balentien and Yuhei Nakamura each drove in one run for Yakult.
The result wasted a quality start by second-year pitcher Juri Hara, who pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on nine hits. Hara struck out seven and walked two.
The Carp, so close to defeat when the ninth inning started, won for the second straight night after dropping two games against the Yomiuri Giants earlier in the week.
“That’s our team,” Jackson said. “That’s how scrappy we are. I’ve always said this year, and last year too, that I don’t think we’ll lose a lot of games in a row because of how scrappy we are. We keep fighting, we keep games close. As long as we keep games close, we find ways to win somehow.”
Matsuyama was 4-for-5 with a home run and a pair of RBIs, and Kikuchi also drove in two runs.
The two teams will return to Jingu Stadium on Saturday for the second game of their three game set. The Swallows will send veteran Masanori Ishikawa (4-9) with Kazuki Yabuta (7-1) set to get the ball for the Carp.
Giants shut down Tigers
Yomiuri right-hander Miles Mikolas (7-4) held Hanshin to a run in eight innings and doubled and scored a run as the Giants downed the Tigers 5-1 at Koshien Stadium on Friday night.
Giants leadoff man Hisayoshi Chono went 3-for-5, homered and scored twice.
Dragons 2, BayStars 1
At Nagoya Dome, Yudai Ono (3-5) allowed a run in seven innings and third-inning doubles by Masato Matsui and Kyohei Kamezawa off Joe Wieland (3-2) broke up a scoreless duel as Chunichi held off the BayStars.
Lions 5, Eagles 0
At Kobo Park Miyagi, Yusei Kikuchi (8-4), from neighboring Iwate Prefecture, tossed a five-hitter and struck out 14, while allowing two walks in a 140-pitch effort.
Hawks 4, Fighters 1
At Sapporo Dome, Yuki Yanagita, the PL’s player of the month for June, capped a three-run third inning with his 22nd home run, a two-run shot off complete-game loser Kohei Arihara (5-6), and SoftBank held on to beat Hokkaido Nippon Ham and take over first place.
Marines 3, Buffaloes 1
At Kyocera Dome, Hideaki Wakui allowed a run in seven innings, allowing Chiba Lotte to tie it in the seventh on Jimmy Paredes’ sixth homer and take the lead for good on Kazuya Fukuura’s ninth-inning sacrifice fly. Orix closer Yoshihisa Hirano (2-4) gave the game away with four ninth-inning walks.