When the pitching duel at Jingu Stadium ended Wednesday, players on both teams had their mouths wide open.
The Tokyo Yakult Swallows were whooping it up after a 1-0 walk-off win over Chunichi in front of 8,922. The Dragons were standing around, jaws dropped in shock after an error cost them the game in the ninth inning.
With runners on first and second and no one out, Chunichi reliever Junichi Kawahara (0-1) fired pinch-hitter Masayoshi Miwa's sacrifice bunt attempt toward third base, but no one was covering. Pinch-runner Kazuki Fukuchi scampered home with the game's only run as the Swallows won their third straight to get to .500.
"We were lucky they threw it where no one was covering," Yakult skipper Junji Ogawa said. "It was really just luck."
Yakult starter Yoshinori Sato (1-1) wasn't lucky. He was good, tossing a 123-pitch three-hitter to beat the reigning Central League champions, who are off to a 2-5-1 start. Sato walked five--three in the first inning--and fanned five for his second career shutout, the first also coming against Chunichi last Aug. 5.
"The main thing I wanted to do was win the game," said Sato, who improved to 6-2 lifetime against Chunichi.
"In the first inning, I was all over the place, but I think that actually helped me get going and I was fine after that."
Kazuhiro Hatakeyama led off the ninth with a double to right and Fukuchi ran for him. The Dragons issued an intentional pass to Ryuji Aikawa, and Ogawa opted to pinch-hit Miwa for Wladimir Balentien. The move paid off, thanks to the error.
"I didn't think they'd walk Aikawa, but in that situation we needed to bunt and that's why I went with Miwa," said Ogawa, who added that Sato was prepared to take the mound if the game had gone into extra innings.
"Yoshinori had thrown a lot of pitches, but he's strong and has stamina. He has developed mentally as well."
The season is young, but the Dragons are alone in last place in the CL for the first time since skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai's took over the team for the 2004 season.
Ochiai had nothing to say about that, preferring to focus on the positive: a strong start for Kazuki Yoshimi. The rotation ace, coming off offseason elbow surgery, worked seven scoreless innings in his first regular season start. He scattered six hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over seven innings.
"He did a good job holding them down the way he did. Now we have to see how he feels [in the next few days]. But if he can throw like that, he'll be fine," Ochiai said.
The sixth-year hurler was close to getting the lead when Takehiro Donoue came on to pinch-hit for him in the eighth and singled to right.
Donoue was sacrificed into scoring position, but got caught in a run-down on a good play by Sato on a comebacker. Two batters later, cleanup hitter Kazuhiro Wada hit a lazy fly to right to end the threat.
The Dragons have played six one-run games.
In another CL game, fourth-year lefty Junpei Shinoda (1-1) tossed a two-hitter on his 26th birthday for his second career shutout as the visiting Hiroshima Carp beat the BayStars 2-0, handing Yokohama its third straight loss.
Two errors in the third inning gave Hiroshima a lead, and Chad Tracy doubled home a run with two outs in the sixth inning to help the Carp take a half-game lead in the CL standings.
In Pacific League action at QVC Marine Field, Yuki Karakawa fired a six-hitter as the Chiba Lotte Marines shut out the Saitama Seibu Lions for the second straight day, winning 3-0.
The fourth-year righty scattered six hits and hit two batters, while fanning eight with no walks for his first shutout since Aug. 19 and the third of his career. The Lions haven't scored at Chiba in 26 innings and have lost six straight there.
Saburo Omura had three hits, including a two-run double in the first inning, to back Karakawa (1-1) in the first back-to-back complete-game shutouts for Lotte since 1996.
Swallows make power play
Cloudy weather and safety concerns forced officials to turn on the lights at Jingu Stadium during Tuesday afternoon's 4-2 win over the Chunichi Dragons.
Umpires determined the lights were needed and Yakult officials agreed, saying they wanted to ensure the well-being of the fans and players.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, four light towers on the infield went on for about 35 minutes after dark clouds covered the park. The lights in the outfield remained off.
The Kanto region switched its games to daytime starts in April to contribute to the energy-saving efforts in the face of rolling blackouts after March 11.