Shut out the day before, the Yomiuri Giants landed a first-inning knockout blow on Sunday and moved into virtual tie for second place.
Shinnosuke Abe's two-out, two-run double opened the flood gates in a five-run first inning and the Giants held on to beat the Hanshin Tigers 6-4 at Koshien Stadium. The Giants trail the Tigers by winning percentage points.
The Giants lucked into a big first inning off Randy Messenger because they failed in their effort to advance the leadoff runner with a sacrifice.
Tetsuya Matsumoto, attempting to sacrifice after Hayato Sakamoto's leadoff single, fouled off a one-strike bunt. Forced to swing away, Matsumoto grounded a lucky single up the middle. After the next two batters made easy outs, the out Matsumoto didn't make gave Abe the chance to bat.
Abe's fly to left center fell off Randy Messenger (4-6) neatly behind left fielder Matt Murton and center fielder Ryo Asai and proved to be a game breaker.
Kenji Yano and Edgar Gonzalez followed with back-to-back ground singles, with Yano's making it 3-0 Giants. Ryota Wakiya doubled home Yano and Gonzalez to cap the rally.
"We scored none yesterday and then had an unfavorable start, but out of that, Shinnosuke put two runs on the board. Wakiya hasn't been getting many hits, so that was great for him."
Matsumoto scored his second run of the game after reaching on a one-out double in the second inning. He went to third on a single by Michihiro Ogasawara and scored on a sacrifice fly by Alex Ramirez.
The Tigers created chances against Giants starter Shugo Fujii, but failed to capitalize as the lefty stranded seven runners in his four innings.
Fujii allowed six hits, with Matt Murton's third-inning solo homer accounting for the only run against him. Despite that, Tatsunori Hara came with an early hook for his starter, replacing him after four innings with setup man Tetsuya Yamaguchi.
"One reason [for that decision] was just winning the game," Hara said. "It was the right time to hand the baton to the next guy."
Yamaguchi (7-3) allowed one run on two hits to get the win. The lefty struck out three and walked none.
A Kenji Jojima leadoff single in the sixth and a one-out double by Shunsuke Fujikawa set the stage for a run-scoring groundout. With Fujikawa on third, Yamaguchi got out of the inning by retiring Murton for the first time in the game.
Yuya Kubo finished the seventh inning for Yamaguchi but gave up Craig Brazell's Japan-best 45th home run of the season to open the season
Marc Kroon closed for the Giants, allowing a run on two hits before recording his 21st save.
Tigers skipper Akinobu Mayumi said the Giants' big inning was everything.
"If we had been able to catch that ball [Abe hit] we would have held them scoreless in the inning," Mayumi said. "We gave up a big lead, but shut them down after that.
"Did we allow too many runs? It never felt like it during the game. We always felt like we could get back in it at any time, but in retrospect it was too big a mountain for us to climb."
The Tigers used four pitchers in relief of Messenger, who allowed all six Giants runs on eight hits in two innings.
Shinobu Fukuhara survived a walk and two singles over two innings. The second hit he allowed, a two-out single in the fourth inning, made Ramirez the 47th player with 3,000 career total bases. Ramirez added one to his tally with a ninth-inning single.
Ryo Watanabe followed Fukuhara and struck out six and walked two in two scoreless innings.
Murton, who went 3-for-5 to raise his average to .355, improved his CL-best hit total to 197. With 14 games left to play, Murton is 13 shy of Japan's single-season record of 210, set by the Orix BlueWave's Ichiro Suzuki in 1994. The CL record is 204, set by Ramirez in 2007 with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
In Yokohama, Giancarlo Alvarado (8-6) allowed two runs in seven innings as the Hiroshima Carp beat the BayStars 3-2.
The CL-leading Chunichi Dragons played later against Yakult at Jingu Stadium.
In Pacific League action, the Saitama Seibu Lions' magic number to clinch the pennant remained at four after their second straight loss to the second-place Hawks at Fukuoka Dome.
Hitoshi Tamura homered and drove in four runs in an 11-4 Fukuoka SoftBank win, spoiling a 5-for-5 day by the Lions' Jose Fernandez.
At Sapporo Dome, Orix's Chihiro Kaneko (17-7) threw 7-2/2 scoreless innings to win his 13th straight start as the Buffaloes beat the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 4-0.
Kaneko, whose 17 wins are the most in Japan, allowed six hits, all singles, and a walk.
In Sendai, Yosuke Takasu's three-run, ninth-inning homer lifted the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles to an 8-6 victory over the Chiba Lotte Marines. It was the Eagles second straight sayonara win.
The Eagles, however, lost the services of star outfielder Teppei Tsuchiya, who broke the small toe on his right foot and will be out for six weeks.