Still burning over a three-game sweep to the first-place Yomiuri Giants, the Chunichi Dragons endured a little more frustration before knocking off the Yakult Swallows on Friday night.
Masahiko Morino had three hits--including a homer and a double--and three RBIs, and Masahiro Araki added three hits and two RBIs as the Dragons took the first of a three-game set 7-5 before 19,728 at Jingu Stadium.
But the Central League's second-place Dragons, who figure to meet the third-place Swallows in the first stage of the Climax Series playoffs in October, saw closer Hitoki Iwase get a rare hook in the ninth inning. Takuya Asao came in and fired one pitch for a popup that saved Iwase and ended the game.
"That's baseball for you," was all Chunichi's taciturn skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai had to say afterward.
Iwase took a few punches before getting knocked out. The Swallows loaded the bases with one out before Kazuhiro Hatakeyama drove an opposite-field sacrifice fly to the wall to cut Chunichi's lead to two runs, but it was just shy of a walk-off grand slam.
"I thought Hatakeyama's ball was going to go out," said Yakult manager Shigeru Takada. "We just couldn't come up with that one big hit."
Iwase then walked Hiroyasu Tanaka to reload the bases and departed. Asao retired Tomohito Yoneno for the righty's second career saveand first this season.
The victory moved Chunichi nine games ahead of Yakult, but the Dragons are 4-1/2 games behind the Giants, nine in the loss column. They snapped a three-game skid, but only after
Chunichi grounded into three double plays, but had four hits with two outs and runners in scoring position to help Kenta Asakura earn his first win since Aug. 5.
Asakura (9-6) gave up six hits, two walks and hit a batter while fanning two over six innings.
The Dragons opened the scoring with a run in the first. With one out, Araki lined a shot off the wall in left for a double, and Morino plated him with a bouncer through the right side.
"We couldn't afford to lose this game," said Morino, who homered for the third straight game. "We're just focused on winning games right now."
The Dragons jumped on Yakult starter Yuki Tanaka (3-4) again in the third inning, Keiji Oyama getting plunked to open the frame. Tanaka didn't help his cause when Asakura bunted hard right back to the righty for what looked like a tailor-made double play.
Tanaka, though, threw wildly to second for an error and after a sacrifice, Araki singled in a run to make it 2-0 Dragons. Kazuhiro Wada rifled a two-run single to left-center field and Chunichi had a 4-0 advantage.
Aaron Guiel blasted the first of his two homers with a man aboard to cut the lead in half. But the Dragons used a pair of two-out singles by Araki and Morino to add to their advantage in the fourth. Morino slugged his 21st long ball, a solo shot, in the seventh for a 7-2 lead.