The Chunichi Dragons' quest for their ninth Central League pennant and their fourth under outgoing skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai remained on hold Saturday afternoon after a 12-4 drubbing at the hands of the Yomiuri Giants.
Alex Ramirez homered in his fourth straight game and drove in four runs for the Giants, who clinched the Central League's final playoff spot.
"It means a lot [to be hot] at this time of the season," said Ramirez, who is hitting .364 since Sept. 1 with nine home runs. "Now, I've just got to continue."
The Dragons' magic number to clinch a second straight pennant remained at one. The Giants moved one game behind the idle second-place Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
The Swallows and Dragons each have three games left, including their final head-to-head clash on Wednesday in Nagoya. The Giants have one game remaining.
Yomiuri's fifth straight win may have sealed the fate of Hanshin Tigers manager Akinobu Mayumi.
The Tigers had already announced Mayumi would not be back for the final year of his contract if the team failed to reach the playoffs.
The Giants opened the scoring with four runs in the third inning off Daisuke Yamai (3-3).
With one out and runners on first and second, Shinnosuke Abe grounded a hanging forkball into right to make it 1-0. Ramirez singled in another run, one more scored on a grounder to second by Yoshinobu Takahashi, and Daisuke Fujimura capped the rally with a sacrifice fly.
Ramirez belted a three-run shot in the fourth before Masaaki Koike's two-run pinch-hit homer off Giants reliever Levi Romero (1-3) got the Dragons on the board.
Yamai allowed seven runs in four innings but outlasted Giants starter Kentaro Nishimura, who was lifted for Romero when the Dragons loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the fourth.
Romero surrendered two runs, on Koike's homer, in 1-1/3 innings to earn the win.
The Dragons added a run in the top of the fifth on a groundout after Motonobu Tanishige singled to open the inning and Takehiro Donoue doubled, but any hopes for a pennant-clinching victory died an ugly death in the bottom of the inning.
Ten Giants batted against reliever Masafumi Hirai, who allowed five runs on five singles, a walk and an error.
Saburo Omura had the fourth straight one-out single off Hirai driving in a run and leaving the bases loaded. A two-out walk to pinch-hitter Yoshiyuki Kamei pushed across a run, and another scored when third baseman Masahiko Morino failed to catch a grounder for an error.
Takayuki Terauchi singled in two more to complete the carnage.
The Dragons' Tony Blanco homered in the eighth inning for a consolation run.
The Giants' Michihiro Ogasawara, started and had two hits, his first since he was hit with a pitch on Aug. 23.
"The team is very complete with Ogasawara back," said Ramirez, who leads the Giants with 23 homers.
In the Pacific League, Jose Fernandez's two-out ninth-inning RBI double tied allowed the Saitama Seibu Lions' to earn a 4-4 tie with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks at Seibu Dome.
The Lions remained one game back of the third-place Orix Buffaloes after Hiroyuki Nakajima and Fernandez each plated a run against Hawks closer Takahiro Mahara.
Seibu has two games left and Orix one.
At Sapporo Dome, Masahiro Tanaka (19-5) won his sixth shutout of the season as the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles beat the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 2-0.