The Japan Series began as a best-of-seven.
Now it's a best-of-three.
Yusuke Oyama hit a sayonara single to give the Hanshin Tigers a 4-3 win over the Orix Buffaloes in a four-hour thriller in Game 3 at Koshien Stadium on Wednesday night.
"I thought about just trying to stay calm, and the cheering of the fans gave me some power,” Oyama said,
The first Japan Series since 1964 to feature two teams from the Kansai region is now tied 2-2. Game 5 is scheduled for Koshien on Thursday night. The Tigers' win guarantees there will be a Game 6 at Kyocera Dome Osaka on Saturday.
A series that began with an 8-0 win by each team in the first two games has suddenly become as tight as can be.
The contest went into the ninth tied 3-3 after a two-run single by Buffaloes third baseman Yuma Mune in the seventh.
Koji Chikamoto, who had three-hits, reached base on a one-out walk and made it to third when Buffaloes reliever Jacob Waguespack threw a pair of wild pitches against Takumu Nakano. The Buffaloes then intentionally walked Nakano and Shota Morishita to load the bases.
Oyama ended a seven-pitch at-bat by drilling a 3-2 fastball into left field as Tigers players ran onto the field to celebrate and the fans roared from the stands.
"This is a unique atmosphere, and it's our first time," said Oyama, who is playing in his first Japan Series. "There have been some difficult moments, but we've gotten a boost from the amazing support we have behind us."
Oyama finished with two RBIs for Hanshin.
"The two intentional walks created a chance for us, and our No. 4 batter decided it," Tigers manager Akinobu Okada said.
Hanshin reliever Suguru Iwazaki earned the win in relief after working a scoreless ninth.
Chikamoto was 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored, and Morishita drove in the Tigers' other run.
Mune was 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs for the Buffaloes and Kotaro Kurebayashi drove in a run.
Both bullpens kept the game scoreless in the eighth.
The Tigers Atsuki Yuasa made his first appearance since June — and received a massive ovation from the crowd — to record the final out in the top of the eighth with runners on second and third.
Orix's Yuki Udagawa closed the door on the Tigers with a runner on second in the bottom half.
Morishita accounted for the first run of the game with a double that drove in Chikamoto in the bottom of the first.
The Buffaloes answered with a triple by Pacific League batting champion Yuma Tongu, and a one-out RBI single from Kurebayashi.
Hanshin's Seiya Kinami hit a two-out single in the second, and starting pitcher Hiroto Saiki drew a walk to set up a chance for Chikamoto. He made the most of the opportunity with a tiebreaking single to left.
Chikamoto recorded his third hit of the night to start the fifth. Nakano attempted a sacrifice and ended up on first after a throwing error by Orix starter Sachiya Yamasaki.
Chikamoto advanced to third when Morishita hit into a fielder's choice. He scored when Oyama hit a double-play ball to the shortstop but beat the throw to first.
The Buffaloes put two on to begin the seventh after an error by Hanshin third baseman Teruaki Sato and a pinch-hit single by Leandro Cedeno. Keita Nakagawa moved the runners ahead with a sacrifice bunt.
Mune, who was 0-for-10 before a two-run double in Game 3, came through again in Game 4 with a two-run single that tied the score 3-3.
The Buffaloes put runners on second and third with one out in the eighth as they pushed to break the deadlock.
Yuya Oda hit a grounder to third, but Hanshin's Kento Itohara fired the ball home where catcher Seishiro Sakamoto tagged out the runner.
Hanshin then brought Yuasa out of the bullpen, and he retired Nakagawa to end the frame.
Kotaro Otake will take the mound for Hanshin to start Game 5. Daiki Tajima will get the start for Orix.