The Hiroshima Carp clinched their second straight Central League championship, the team's eighth overall, with a 3-2 win over the Hanshin Tigers on Monday afternoon.
Two days after they were denied a chance to clinch at home, a huge number of Carp fans invaded the Tigers' home, historic Koshien Stadium outside Osaka, and erupted after Shota Nakazaki sealed the victory with a 1-2-3 ninth inning to record his eighth save.
Manager Koichi Ogata's first words after the game were directed at the fans.
"When we won last year, for the first time in 26 years, we could all sense the outpouring of joy from the fans. It was just tremendous. And the players, as a man, came out motivated from Day One to repeat, to relive that," said Ogata, who was tossed in the air after the game in the traditional doage.
"The fans give us strength. When we are in a tight spot or have a chance to score they give us that little extra."
"And to have the doage here at Koshien Stadium, where I played my first game as a pro, and which has always been a special place for me, makes me happy from the bottom of my heart."
Xavier Batista, who made a splash by opening his first-team career with back-to-back, pinch-hit home runs earlier in the season, tipped the scales in the Carps' favor with a tie-breaking, eighth-inning RBI single.
Japan's most powerful offense got on the board in the first by playing small ball. A Kosuke Tanaka leadoff walk, a sacrifice and a groundout set the stage for Ryuhei Matsuyama's RBI single. The Carp cashed in their fourth scoring opportunity of the game in the fourth inning, when starting pitcher Yusuke Nomura squeezed home Tomohiro Abe from third.
Nomura allowed a run on six hits in six innings. He left the game with a 2-1 lead after surrendering Masahiro Nakatani's 20th home run of the season with one out in the fourth.
With Nomura out of the game, minor league slugger Naomasa Yokawa led off the seventh by driving Ryuji Ichioka's second pitch out to center. Ichioka (6-2) worked one inning and was credited with the win.
The game didn't stay tied for long. In the top of the eighth, Masaru Iwazaki (4-1), the Tigers third pitcher, walked the first two batters he faced. With one out and two on, Kentaro Kuwahara took the mound and Batista smashed a high fastball between third and short to plate Ryusuke Kikuchi with the go-ahead run.
Jay Jackson, Hiroshima's sometime setup man, took over in the eighth. Hiroki Uemoto reached on a leadoff single, and Jackson got a scare when a Kosuke Fukudome drive died on the warning track for the first out. Jackson, however, picked off Uemoto for the next out before a generously called strike on a 3-2 pitch ended the inning.
Dragons 2, Giants 0
At Nagoya Dome, Atsushi Fujii broke up a scoreless pitchers' duel with a two-run, eighth-inning homer off reliever Scott Mathieson (3-4) to lift Chunichi over Yomiuri.
BayStars 4, Swallows 2
At Yokohama Stadium, Jose Lopez tied the game 2-2 in the third with his 28th home run, and No. 9 hitter Toshihiko Kuramoto doubled in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning as DeNA beat Yakult and climbed back into a tie for third place and the CL's final playoff spot with Yomiuri.
Eagles 4, Marines 3
At Kobo Park Miyagi, Lotte's Ayumu Ishikawa (3-11) lost his shutout bid and the game in the ninth inning, when he allowed the first four batters to reach. Lefty Takahiro Matsunaga inherited two runners and both scored, handing the win to Rakuten starter Takahiro Norimoto (13-6).
Fighters 7, Buffaloes 1
At Sapporo Dome, southpaw Yuki Yoshida (1-2) allowed a run in seven innings to earn his first career win, while fellow Nippon Ham rookie Toshitake Yokoo doubled in two first-inning runs in the win over Orix.
Lions 14, Hawks 13, 10 innings
At MetLife Dome, Tomoya Mori drove in five runs, including one with a game-tying single in the 10th, before Yuji Kaneko delivered a walk-off RBI double as Seibu beat SoftBank for the second straight day.