The All-Star break did nothing to stamp out the Chunichi Dragons' fire.
The Central League's second-place team put the heat on the first-place Yomiuri Giants with four home runs and fine pitching, winning their ninth straight before 42,877 at Tokyo Dome on Tuesday.
Masahiko Morino, celebrated his 31st birthday in style, smacking a go-ahead two-run longball in the seventh inning to back lefty Chen Wei-yin (4-2), who tossed 6-2/3 strong innings in a 5-3 victory that gave the Dragons their longest winning streak in four years and put them just 1-1/2 games behind the Giants.
Morino, who has been swinging a hot stick since June, said he was hoping to go deep on his birthday.
"The thought of hitting a home run did cross my mind, but I didn't think it would really happen," said the infielder, who was hitting .246 on June 2 and is now at .279.
"I didn't think my average was going to stay that way the whole season and now I finally feel like I'm contributing to the team."
Morino's 14th homer jumped off his bat, but barely cleared the wall in right-center field.
"It was off the end of the bat a little, but I'm glad it went over. I knew if I could get a good swing, I could hit it out."
CL home run leader Tony Blanco, Masaaki Koike and Kazuhiro Wada also contributed solo shots for the Dragons.
Chen came in as the CL ERA leader and while that number took some bruising, he came away with his second straight win, holding Yomiuri to three runs on eight hits and a walk with five strikeouts.
"Chen got into trouble at times, but he did well to get out of jams," said Chunichi skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai.
The Dragons saddled Giants starter Wirfin Obispo (3-1), who won in Nagano on July 22 just before the All-Star break, with his first loss in four starts.
"We hung in there as a team and competed well tonight," said Yomiuri skipper Tatsunori Hara. "Our opponents just didn't miss the mistakes."
The skipper said Obispo didn't pitch poorly.
"He did well on five days rest," said Hara, who added, "The pitch to Morino was a mistake, though."
Obispo was working his second straight game for the Giants and it showed. He allowed six hits--three homers--walked two and hit two while fanning eight over seven innings.
The Dominican right-hander struggled to escape jams the first two innings. He loaded the bases with a second walk in the first, but fanned Atsushi Fujii to kill off that threat.
In the second inning, a single and a hit batter put two on with two out, but Michihiro Ogasawara saved him, snaring Masahiro Araki's laser shot with a diving play to his right to snuff out a rally on Obispo's 50th pitch.
The Dragons broke through in the fourth inning, Koike ripping a solo homer--his fifth--to left with one out for a 1-0 lead.
Blanco got to Obisp in the fifth, belting his 29th longball an estimated 137 meters to left field for a 2-0 Chunichi lead.
The Giants put the first two on in the bottom of the inning off Chen. Shinnosuke Abe lined a single to right and Takuya Kimura's dunker to center dropped in front of Fujii.
Obispo bunted back to Chen, who threw late and wide to third for an error that loaded the bases. Hayato Sakamoto's single to left plated two to knot the score. With one out and runners on second and third, Chen fanned Ogasawara for the third straight time. He pitched around Alex Ramirez and got Yoshiyuki Kamei on a routine flyout to center with the bases loaded to end the inning.
"Our inability to take the lead in the fifth inning was key," Hara said.
Morino's two-run blast put the Dragons up 4-2, but pinch-hitter Edgardo Alfonzo cut the lead to a run with solo shot--his second--to open the seventh.
Wada's 21st homer leading off the eighth closed out the scoring.