With only a few games remaining for them to pad their Central League lead, the Chunichi Dragons did what they had to do on Saturday.
Tony Blanco went 3-for-4 and homered twice as the Dragons avoided an upset with a 9-7 victory over the last-place Yokohama BayStars at Yokohama Stadium. Chunichi started the day with a 2-1/2-game lead but now have just two games remaining on the schedule.
Blanco, who missed the Dragons' 6-1 loss to the Hanshin Tigers on Thursday with an injury, was back and making a difference.
"I had to play, my teammates were looking so down," said Blanco, wearing tape on his right hand after jamming a finger when he slid into a base on Wednesday. "I wanted to play and maybe that would pick them up.
"I didn't feel the same in my last two at-bats, but the damage was done."
As it turned out, the Dragons, had to do a lot of damage to get the win. The BayStars, needing a victory to avoid finishing last for the third straight year, battled back to score five runs off veteran lefty Masahiro Yamamoto in 4-1/3 innings.
Maximo Nelson, in the starting rotation since July, had been told the day before he would be in relief for this game. Nelson (4-3) struck out three in 1-2/2 perfect innings in relief of Yamamoto.
"Relief or starting, anything's OK," the 2.04-meter right-hander said.
Leadoff man Masahiro Araki scored three runs, going 4-for-6 with a double and an RBI. He also reached on an error after a smash up the middle that could easily have been scored a hit. The only time he made his way back to the bench after an at-bat was on a lineout.
He got the Dragons on the board in the first against right-hander Atori Ota (0-7), singling to open the game and scoring from second on a one-out hit by Masahiko Morino. After the BayStars tied it in the bottom of the inning, Araki's two-out single plated Kohei Oda for the go-ahead run in the second. He went to third on a throwing error and scored on a triple by Atsushi Fujii.
Ota allowed four runs in 2-2/2 innings. He surrendered a solo homer to Blanco in the third and left after allowing the next two batters to reach.
In the fourth, Kazuhiro Wada hit a two-run homer off right-hander Takehiro Fukuda, the BayStars' third pitcher, and Blanco followed him with his second shot of the day.
The BayStars chipped away at Yamamoto's lead in the home half of the inning. Uchikawa reached on a leadoff infield single and Shuichi Murata belted one into the left-field stands for his 24th home run.
The hosts knocked Yamamoto out in the fifth. Shotaro Ide hit a pinch-hit, leadoff double and 24-year-old Keijiro Matsumoto hit his first pro home run.
Nelson applied the brakes to the BayStars, and lefty Akifumi Takahashi followed him with a scoreless seventh.
In the top of the eighth, Chunichi's Naomichi Donoue doubled home Wada for a big insurance run, making it 8-5. Setup man Takuya Asao retired the side in order in the bottom of the eighth, and Morino plated Araki in the top of the ninth to give the Dragons a three-run cushion.
The late runs came in handy.
Asao issued a leadoff walk to Jose Castillo, and Tatsuhiko Kinjo's pinch-hit double allowed a run to score on a groundout. With two outs, Ide ushered closer Hitoki Iwase into the game with an RBI double.
Iwase, however, needed only four pitches to record his 42nd save.
Both the second-place Hanshin Tigers and third-place Yomiuri Giants started Saturday 2-1/2 games back of the Dragons and played later in the evening.
In the Pacific League, Takeya Nakamura hit a pair of solo homers and the Saitama Seibu Lions snapped a five-game losing streak by beating the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 3-2 in Sendai.
At the start of play, Seibu was a game back of Fukuoka SoftBank, which played later in the evening at Sapporo.
In Osaka, Chiba Lotte roughed up Chihiro Kaneko (17-8) for six runs in 5-1/3 innings, snapping his win streak as the Marines beat the Orix Buffaloes 6-2.
Kaneko, the PL's pitcher of the month for July and August, had won 13 consecutive starts since losing to the Marines in Chiba on June 24.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka went 3-for-5, raising his PL-best average to .345 and his season hit total to 201. Orix's Alex Cabrera started the day batting .341, second only to Nishioka, went 0-for-4 as lefty Yoshihisa Naruse (12-11) held Orix to a run in six innings.
Meanwhile, veteran Orix infielder Makoto Shiozaki announced he will retire at the end of the season.