Aaron Guiel's first-ever walk-off homer in Japan gave Yakult a 6-5 win over the Lotte Marines on Thursday and has the Swallows' confidence sky high.
Guiel took Lotte's Brian Sikorski (4-3) deep to right on a 3-2 pitch leading off the bottom of the 11th inning to end a 4-hour 33-minute interleague battle that left Guiel and the Swallows a little giddy.
"We don't get paid for overtime and I knew all the guys were tired, so I'm just glad I could get a hit to send the guys home," joked the third-year outfielder, whose 10th homer of the year allowed the remainder of a crowd of 15,548 at Jingu Stadium to go home.
The Swallows, who moved to within three games of the CL front-running Yomiuri Giants, are certain they're on course to challenge for the league title.
"I've been here for three years and this is the best team yet," Guiel said. "Even though the Giants have some superstar players, I feel we have a team that can catch them."
The win was the Swallows' fifth straight and pushed them 12 games over .500 for the first time since 2002.
Jun Hagiwara (1-0) earned the decision in a battle of bullpens, working out of a two-on, two-out jam to record a scoreless ninth.
Yakult starter Shohei Tateyama got a no-decision but had his worst outing this year, yielding five runs on a season-high nine hits, while walking four and fanning four.
"All my pitches were up in the zone. And when I needed to make pitches, I put the ball down the middle," said Tateyama, who was trying to win his ninth straight decision to start the season.
Lotte scored three runs in the top of the fifth to give starter Yuta Omine a 5-2 lead, but the righty couldn't hold it. He surrendered an RBI single to Guiel and another hit to Miyamoto to load the bases before departing in the fifth.
His successor, Taiki Nakago, fanned his first batter but pinch-hitter Ryosuke Morioka's single to right plated one run, and the throw to the plate got away for an error as the tying run scored to make it 5-5.