Jun Matsui hit a game-tying leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth inning, helping the Yakult Swallows salvage a 10-inning, 2-2 tie against the Hiroshima Carp on Thursday night.
But the Swallows failed to give manager Junji Ogawa a celebratory win on his 55th birthday and could not widen the gap between themselves and the Carp as the two teams vie for the final playoff spot in the Climax Series.
"I had a pretty good image going into that at-bat. I put a full swing on that pitch and it went out the other way," said Matsui, who went 3-for-5 on the night. "I was just trying to get on base, but the ball carried well," said Matsui, whose 2-1 pitch just stayed fair over the wall near the left-field foul pole at Jingu Stadium.
Despite the tie, Ogawa was not impressed with his players, saying for a team in third place a win was essential.
"A tie is still a tie, no matter what. As a team that is trailing in the standings, we can't afford not to win. We were unable to get that extra hit we needed all night," he said.
Hiroshima starter Kan Otake gave up one unearned run over eight innings. He allowed runners on in every inning except the third and seventh and escaped two-on jams when he struck out Matsui looking to end the sixth and fanned Shunichi Takeuchi swinging at a third strike to stop a threat in the eighth.
Left fielder Lastings Milledge made a fine jumping catch off the wall on Soichiro Amaya's fly leading off fourth and was slow getting to his feet, but he stayed in the game.
Swallows starter Orlando Roman got off to a flying start, retiring the first eight batters he faced before his command suddenly betrayed him with two outs in the fourth.
Eishi Soyogi hit a flare into the gap in right, and Ryuhei Matsuyama followed with a double to right-center for the opening run. One inning later, Masato Akamatsu belted a one-out solo shot over the center field wall for a 2-0 Hiroshima lead.
Milledge, who hurt his right knee on the jumping catch in the fourth, hit a sacrifice fly to left foul territory to bring Yakult within 2-1 in the fifth following a leadoff single, a bobbling error by Otake, and a sacrifice bunt.
BayStars 4, Tigers 3
At Yokohama Stadium, pinch-hitter Tatsuya Shimozono hit a two-out tiebreaking single in the eighth inning, lifting DeNA past Hanshin.
Hitoshi Fujie (3-2) got the win with an inning of scoreless relief. Hanshin reliever Shinobu Fukuhara (1-4) took the loss. Takayuki Kajitani gave DeNA an early 2-0 lead with a two-run homer in the second.
Giants 9, Dragons 3
At Koriyama Kaiseizan Stadium, Giants hitters strung together five consecutive hits in the fourth inning against Kenichi Nakata (5-9), featuring Daisuke Fujimura's bases-loaded triple as Yomiuri came from behind to take the final game of a three-game set against Chunichi.
Shinnosuke Abe drove in three runs, including a two-run drive for his 20th homer of the season. Fujimura had four RBIs in a 2-for-4 outing. Satoshi Fukuda (5-1) pitched two innings of scoreless relief.
Fighters 2, Lions 0
At Sapporo Dome, Brian Wolfe (8-9) pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out six with no walks against Seibu as Nippon Ham snapped a four-game skid and moved within one game of the front-running Lions.
Yang Dai-kang and Haruki Nishikawa had RBI singles in the third inning off Kazuhisa Makita (9-7) for all of the scoring necessary.
Buffaloes 4, Hawks 1
At Yahoo Dome, pinch-hitter Yusuke Kajimoto had a tiebreaking RBI single and Takayoshi Kawabata followed with an RBI single for insurance in Orix's three-run ninth as the Buffaloes downed Softbank.
With the loss, Softbank dropped into fourth place. Reliever Mamoru Kishida (4-2) was credited with the win. Former major leaguer Hideki Okajima (0-1) was charged with the loss.
Marines 3, Eagles 1
At QVC Marine Field, Shinichi Nemoto belted a tiebreaking two-run homer off Shunichiro Koyama (1-2) in the eighth inning, and Lotte held off Rakuten to go undefeated in four games, including a tie, for the first time since June.
Naoya Masuda (1-1) pitched one inning of relief for his first career win.