The Orix Buffaloes became the first Pacific League team to win three straight championships since 1994 on Wednesday, when they clinched the pennant with a 6-2 win over the Lotte Marines.
The defending Japan Series champions overcame a 2-0 deficit at their home park, Kyocera Dome Osaka, with a six-run seventh inning and went on to secure their franchise's 15th PL pennant.
With a magic number of two to clinch and playing their closest rivals, the Buffaloes could control their own destiny, but surrendered the early lead.
Left fielder Yutaro Sugimoto, however, helped keep the Marines in check by throwing out a runner in the fifth inning, when Lotte would make it 2-0 against Orix lefty Sachiya Yamasaki.
"I expected this to be much easier than it turned out to be," said Orix manager Satoshi Nakajima.
After winning by 2-1/2 games in 2021 and finishing in a flat-footed tie for first in 2022, the Buffaloes' win lifted them 14-1/2 games clear of the Marines.
"My focus this year was never on the size of our lead but on the quality of our baseball. All along I thought, 'We can become a really good team,' so the size of our lead was never part of the equation."
Nakajima joked that he felt uncomfortable after declaring his team would clinch at home only to fall behind. And after his first two hitters made out in the seventh, that feeling must have grown stronger.
Things began to turn around when Marwin Gonzalez was hit by a pitch. On second after a wild pitch, Gonzalez scored on a single by Sugimoto, who scored the tying run from second on a Kotaro Kurebayashi single.
Tomoya Noguchi singled in the go-ahead run, and Keita Nakagawa tripled in two before completing the scoring on a Masahiro Nishino single.
"Until the seventh inning, I thought I was going to look like a liar," Nakajima said. "But the players came from behind. They are remarkable."
Elsewhere, the battle for the PL's third and final playoff spot intensified after the fourth-place Rakuten Eagles moved to within a half game of the third-place SoftBank Hawks by beating them 6-1, while the Seibu Lions defeated the Nippon Ham Fighters 4-1.
In the Central League, the third-place DeNA BayStars moved to within one game of the second-place Hiroshima Carp by beating them 3-1.
The fourth-place Yomiuri Giants fell 4-3 to the Hanshin Tigers, dropping 3-1/2 games behind DeNA in the fight for the CL's final postseason spot. The Yakult Swallows beat the Chunichi Dragons 6-5 in their bottom-of-the-table clash.