If all's well that ends well, this one was a peach.
Shinnosuke Abe's second home run saved the day after the Yomiuri Giants blew a big lead and barely held on for a 9-8 win over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at Tokyo Dome on Saturday afternoon.
Abe's eighth-inning solo homer put the hosts ahead for good, although the Giants captain endured a long ninth inning behind the plate as closer Marc Kroon loaded the bases with walks before getting the first out of his team-record 33rd save.
"You can't worry about that," Abe said of the game's dangerous finish. "It's something we could worry about if we tried. We won. It's over. That's what counts, isn't it?
"As far as the elements of the game, there are things we need to address and we will."
The Giants, who started the day five games back of the Central League-leading Hanshin Tigers, hit four over the wall for the second straight game. And though it was a struggle, it marked their fifth straight win.
"We wanted to come here to win today first and then watch what Hanshin does after," Abe said. "It's great motivation for us."
Speedy Takanori Suzuki led off the home half of the first against Swallows right-hander Ryo Kawashima with his first homer in two years. The leadoff man's two-run triple capped a four-run fourth as the Giants began to run away with the game.
Yoshinobu Takahashi also homered for the Giants, and Hayato Sakamoto opened the scoring in the fourth with a two-run double.
In the fifth inning, Takuya Kimura singled in the Giants' eighth run but followed that with a costly base-running error.
Starter Adrian Burnside allowed four runs in five innings and the bullpen blew a four-run lead in the sixth inning.
Yuya Kubo, who stranded three Swallows runners to end the sixth, worked 1-2/3 scoreless innings. He was followed to the mound by lucky lefty Tetsuya Yamaguchi (11-2), who worked a scoreless eighth.
Abe's homer made a winner out of the pitcher, whom the Giants signed off their developmental roster last season.
Abe led off the eighth against right-hander Ryota Igarashi (3-1), the Swallows' third pitcher.
"I had forkball in mind, but anything that got me on base would've been fine. A walk--or even getting hit by a pitch--would've been OK," said Abe, who tattooed a 3-2 fastball down the pipe for his 17th home run of the year.
But even at the end, this win would be a hard one. Although he had a 3-2 pitch to the leadoff hitter go against him, Kroon could barely find the strike zone. After walking the first two batters, the next man fouled off two bunt attempts before walking with no outs.
"That was brutal," said manager Tatsunori Hara of his club's victory. "I don't know why we can't make this a little easier."
Even when things were going the Giants way, it was hard.
After his RBI single made it 8-4 in the bottom of the fifth, Kimura was on first when Abe hit a one-out grounder to third. The Swallows tried to force Kimura at second, but the runner was called safe. Thinking he was out, Kimura was not wrong for long. Instead of one out and the bases loaded, the Giants had two on, two outs and were quickly out of the inning with just one run.
"That is extremely embarrassing," Hara said. "But in the end, we came back as a team, got the job done as a team.
"The pitching wasn't there again today, but we won and we need to just throw out what happened before.
"From here on, the games will be tougher, the pressure greater. To know we can come back, we can pull together is vital."
Abe, who recently rejoined the team after participating in Japan's Beijing Olympic failure, echoed his skipper's sentiment.
"You always want to go out strong," Abe said. "Whatever you do at the end stays with you.
"It's not just us, this is a tough time of the season for everyone. But for all the players who backed me up, allowing me to go to Beijing, I owe it to them to get the job done now."