The scrappy Hanshin Tigers fought back from a three-run deficit, edging the Yakult Swallows 5-4 on Thursday night at Jingu Stadium in a Central League matchup.
The Tigers pushed the winning run across in the seventh inning on a Matt Murton ground ball to first and then hung on to get the win.
A leadoff triple in the bottom of the ninth by Atsushi Fujimoto off Hanshin closer Kyuji Fujikawa made it very interesting, but the Swallows were unable to get him home.
After Tigers starter Keiji Uezono walked his Swallows counterpart Tony Barnette to load the bases with one in the bottom of the second, Yakult opened the scoring on a fielder's choice groundout by Hiroyasu Tanaka. With two men still aboard, Shinya Miyamoto hit an RBI triple to right field that seemed to get Tigers outfielder Kodai Sakurai all turned around as it bounced off the wall, allowing two runs to score.
In the top of the fourth, the Tigers got one back on a Kenji Jojima solo home run to left off Barnette. It was the fifth shot of the year for the former Seattle Mariners catcher.
Hanshin looked like it might do some more damage in the inning when Barnette walked pinch-hitter Tomoaki Kanemoto to load the bases with two out, but he was able to retire leadoff-hitter Murton on a groundout to second to snub out the threat.
In the bottom of the fifth, Yakult extended its lead when Miyamoto once again benefitted from some poor outfield defense on the part of Hanshin. The veteran Swallows infielder lined a shot to left off reliever Kazuya Tsutsui that skipped under the glove of left fielder Keisuke Kano, a converted catcher, turning what should have been a sharp single into a three-base hit. Norichika Aoki then hit a sacrifice fly to deep right to bring home Miyamoto.
A three-run Hanshin sixth, however, nullified that lead and put the clubs back on even terms. After Murton lined an RBI single to right off Barnette, Kenichi Matsuoka was brought in from the bullpen to replace the American right-hander. Keiichi Hirano greeted him with an RBI single to left to make it a one-run ballgame before cleanup-hitter Takahiro Arai stroked a run-scoring single to center to tie it 4-4.
More sloppy play, this time by the Swallows, contributed to Hanshin's go-ahead run in the seventh. With Craig Brazell on first base after his third single of the night, Yakult reliever Tatsuyoshi Masubuchi fielded a one-out comeback grounder off the bat of Kano. Masubuchi bounced his throw to second base into center field on what should have been a tailor-made double play ball, leaving two men on.
Pinch-hitter Ikuro Katsuragi then drew a walk to load the bases and the Tigers got a run across when the Swallows were unable to turn a double play Murton's ground ball to first.
Yakult stranded a man at third base in the bottom of the seventh after Tsuyoshi Ueda hit a pinch-hit single to lead off the frame. A sacrifice bunt and a groundout to second moved Ueda up 180 feet, but with two out Tomoyuki Kubota got Aoki to ground out.
Hanshin starter Uezono allowed three runs over three innings and Barnette gave up four runs through 5 1-3 for the Swallows but neither man figured in the decision.
Tigers reliever Ken Nishimura (3-0) worked one scoreless inning to get the win. Masubuchi (0-1) took the loss.