For eight innings on Thursday, the Hiroshima Carp couldn't catch up with anything. In the ninth inning, they caught a break and escaped Jingu Stadium with a 1-0 win over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
Akihiro Higashide scored the game's only run on an error by the Swallows and Kan Otake (9-13) tossed eight shutout innings as the Carp stayed alive mathematically in the chase for the playoffs.
Third-place Chunichi rallied to beat Yokohama 6-4, keeping fourth-place Hiroshima two games behind in the Central League standings. The Carp have three games to play while the Dragons, whose playoff magic number is two, have five remaining.
Higashide scored when Yakult's Yuichi Matsumoto fired the ball wildly past third while trying to nail the speedy runner, who drew the throw by moving from second base on Alex Ochoa's groundout to third.
Hiroshima skipper Marty Brown pointed to Higashide's aggressiveness as the key to forcing the error.
"Little things on the bases win and lose ballgames. Unfortunately in the last three games it hurt us," Brown said. "But Higashide did a good job of slowing down and then going to third. It caused them to speed the game up and they threw the ball away."
Otake went to the mound in the ninth, but Brown thought better of it and made the switch to closer Katsuhiro Nagakawa, who nailed it down for his 38th save.
When asked if he wanted to go for the shutout, Otake said, "That's the reason I took the mound in the ninth."
But Otake, who limited the Swallows to four hits and two walks without a strikeout, had done enough, giving the Carp the opportunity to steal the victory.
He outdueled Yakult's 19-year-old Yoshinori Sato, who also threw eight shutout innings but was getting ice when Hiroshima got its run off Ryota Igarashi (3-2).
Otake said he tried not to concentrate on the highly touted rookie.
"I just tried to focus on how I was pitching and I was able to do that," said Otake. "We've got three games left and we have to come together and do all we can to win all three."
The Carp, with their backs against the wall, need Chunichi to lose more than half of its remaining games to have a shot to reach the playoffs.
Sato surrendered just four hits and a walk while fanning six. He got a no-decision. Making his fourth start, the righty was hitting his spots early on. The Carp didn't have a lot of good swings off the right-hander. They only hit five balls--four of them hits--out of the infield.
He struck out the side in seventh inning and the first batter of the eighth.