One well-timed home run proved more valuable than three for Yoshihiro Maru, whose fourth solo homer in two games lifted the Hiroshima Carp to a 3-2 interleague win over the SoftBank Hawks on Saturday afternoon.
A day after he hit three homers in a 5-3 loss, Hiroshima's No. 3 hitter broke a 2-2, eighth-inning tie by leading off with his 12th home run of the season.
"The game was tied so my first thought was to create a scoring opportunity by getting on base," Maru said. "I got a really good swing. Basically I went up looking to put a good swing on a fat pitch."
"I don't want people to misunderstand and think this (power spurt) is normal for me, it was just something that happened."
The win pushed the Carp to the head of the interleague standings. A win over the Hawks, six-time interleague champs, on Sunday would make the Carp just the second Central League team to win the interleague title in a competition routinely dominated by Pacific League teams.
With Carp closer Takeru Imamura on the mound in the ninth, the Hawks mounted a threat with one down. After a scratch infield single, pinch runner Keizo Kawashima made the most of a bounced pitch to take second. He went to third on a comebacker off Imamura's leg for another fortunate infield single.
With much of the Mazda Stadium crowd of 31,769 in stunned silence, Imamura returned to the mound after briefly receiving treatment and threw five straight strikes before getting a sharp grounder on a 1-2 pitch. Third baseman Tomohiro Abe's throw to first was wide, but Brad Eldred laid out down the line on his back, cradling the ball while keeping his foot on the bag.
The Hawks took a two-run lead off Carp starter Yusuke Nomura on a first-inning Kenta Imamiya homer and a fourth-inning RBI single by Nobuhiro Matsuda.
The Carp caught a break when center fielder Yuki Yanagita misplayed Brad Eldred's two-out, fourth-inning single to center, allowing two runs to score and make it a tie game.
Nomura and Hawks rookie Yuki Matsumoto each allowed two runs in seven innings. Nomura gave up seven hits but no walks, while striking out four. Matsumoto surrendered five hits and three walks, while striking out seven.
Carp reliever Shota Nakazaki (2-0) worked around a pair of walks to earn the win in relief after Maru hit the first pitch from Sho Iwasaki (3-2) out to center. Imamura earned his 13th save.
Swallows 5, Fighters 0
At Jingu Stadium, Yakult won its fourth straight behind the first shutout in Japan by David Buchanan (4-4), who stopped Nippon Ham on four hits, while Tetsuto Yamada hit a three-run homer and former Fighter Keiji Obiki hit a solo shot.
Dragons 4, Lions 1
At Nagoya Dome, Raul Valdes (3-4) allowed a run on two hits and two walks over seven innings, and Chunichi scored three runs in 3-1/3 innings off reliever Frank Garces (2-2) who entered in the first after Seibu starter Yasuo Sano left with knee trouble.
BayStars 14, Buffaloes 5
At Yokohama Stadium, a day after breaking a late tie with a three-run home run, catcher Yasutaka Tobashira brought his team from behind in the sixth inning with his first career grand slam as DeNA handed Orix its sixth straight loss.
Eagles 8, Tigers 2
At Koshien Stadium, Hiroaki Shimauchi tripled home Zelous Wheeler off reliever Marcos Mateo (5-2) to break a 2-2, eighth-inning tie, and a Hanshin defensive lapse contributed to a six-run Rakuten inning, capped by a Carlos Peguero grand slam.
Giants 8, Marines 0
At Tokyo Dome, Kazuto Taguchi (5-2) threw a four-hitter for his second shutout of the season, while Casey McGehee, Shuichi Murata and Yang Dai-kang each drove in two runs as Yomiuri crushed Lotte.