Yutaro Osaki had the last word in the latest battle in one of Japan's biggest rivalries.
Moments after the Saitama Seibu Lions saw their potential winning run cut down at the plate in the 10th inning, the 1.70-meter Osaki's RBI single sealed a 3-2 interleague victory over the Yomiuri Giants on Sunday. A near-capacity crowd of 33,173 at Seibu Dome witnessed the second straight extra-inning thriller between last autumn's Japan Series contestants.
The Lions battled back to tie it on Takumi Kuriyama's ninth-inning single against Yomiuri closer Marc Kroon (0-1), who lost it in the 10th. With two outs and runners on the corners, Osaki said he was unusually calm.
"I was more relaxed than I thought I'd be," he said. "In my previous at-bat, when I sacrificed, I was much more anxious."
Osaki chopped a 1-1 pitch through the infield to plate Haruki Kurose and start Seibu's celebration.
Kroon, who allowed a costly leadoff walk in the ninth and four singles in 1-2/3 innings, said it was all down to control.
"I didn't throw strikes," he said. "I made some good pitches, but that they put bats on them and found holes. But it [the loss] is my responsibility."
The Giants came from behind with a run in the sixth against Series MVP Takayuki Kishi, who allowed two runs in seven innings. Shigeyuki Furuki, whose bizarre error nearly blew the Giants out of the water in the bottom of the sixth, turned around and doubled home the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh.
With Kroon three outs from closing out the home side, Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe sent reserve catcher Koji Noda up there to bunt against the hard-throwing right-hander.
Noda squared and Kroon walked him on five pitches. Osaki sacrificed pinch-runner Kenta Matsusaka to second, from where he scored on a single by Takumi Kuriyama. Matsusaka, who was cut down at the plate in the 10th inning of Saturday's 2-2 tie, was safe this time.
Lions right-hander Chikara Onodera loaded the bases with two outs in the 10th on a single and two walks, but a rare trip to the mound by manager Watanabe did the trick as Giants captain Shinnosuke Abe grounded out after some ferocious cuts.
"I said, 'Either you're going to get him or he's going to get you,'" Watanabe said. "The worst possible thing is a walk, so go after him."
In the bottom of the inning, Kroon struck out the first batter, but Tatsuyuki Uemoto singled with one out. Uemoto was the Lions third catcher of the day after starter Ginjiro Sumitani was knocked out putting a tag on Alex Ramirez to end the sixth.
With one out, Kurose came off the bench bunting. Despite two fouls, Watanabe kept his guy poised to bunt. On a 2-2 count, the skipper sent the runner, Kurose swung and chopped it past the charging Giants infielders.
"I saw last year he's a player with tremendous bat control, that's why I wanted him in there," said Watanabe, who then had his runners moving on contact only for Matsusaka to hit it to Furuki at second. Furuki, who had flubbed a routine toss to short earlier in the game, came home and catcher Abe made the tag.
"That was extremely close, but he was ruled out," said Watanabe. "You can't change it, but the team responded with the right emotion. Osaki's the kind of guy who can capitalize on that and he did."