From the moment Wu Jau-hui scored the first run of the game in the top of the eighth inning to give the Macoto Cobras a 1-0 lead against the President Lions on Thursday, it looked like the Cobras were well on their way to their Chinese Professional Baseball League-best 29th victory and first-ever regular season title (first half).
After all, they had only lost two games in 30 chances when leading after the eighth inning.
But as fate would have it, the Lions scored the game-tying run in the bottom of the ninth, thanks to two throwing errors by Cobras second baseman Deng Shih-yang and Kuo Ming-ren on a would-be, game-ending double play, and won it with rookie Shih Jing-dien's grounder to second for a 2-1, come-from-behind victory.
The loss by the Cobras, coupled with the Sinon Bulls' 2-1 triumph over the Chinatrust Whales on the same night, gave both the Cobras and the Bulls an identical 28-2-20 record for the first half of the season, meaning that for the first time in CPBL history, it would take a one-game playoff between the two clubs to determine the first-half regular season champions.
"For a brief moment it seemed as though we were going to clinch the first-half title on our own with the late-game lead, " Cobras manager Kuo Tai-yuan said after the game.
The two teams will play the decider at a neutral site (Chiayi) on July 21 in a one-game playoff.
Meanwhile, for the second month in a row, a pair of Cobras greats were given Most Valuable Players honors by the Chinese Baseball Writers Association.
Lefty ace Lin Ying-jeh beat out fellow pitchers Lin En-yu and Hsu Chu-jien for the Pitcher of the Month award in June with a 4-1 record and a 2.48 earned run average.
He also tossed his first complete-game shutout win of the year on June 24 in a 5-0 decision against the La New Bears.
While Lin excelled with an outstanding effort off the mound, Macoto slugger Hsieh Jia-shien tore through opposing pitching staffs with a .375 batting average, 13 RBIs and five home runs to establish himself as the CPBL's premier hitter.
Two of Hsieh's 13 RBIs delivered the game-winner for the Cobras as he silenced any skeptics with his red-hot bat.
Bulls 2, Whales 1
Needing a win of their own against the Whales and a Cobras loss to keep their first-half title alive, the Bulls turned to eight-game winner Lenin Picota on Thursday to face the Whales.
The Panamanian righty responded by pitching one-run ball in seven strong innings to guide his team to a 2-1 victory.
Leadoff man Chang Jien-ming's run-scoring single in the top of the seventh against Whales starter Kuo Jien-san, followed by second baseman Chang Jia-hao's RBI double, was the difference in the game as the defending champs came through in a must-win situation to force the one-game playoff against the Cobras.
Cobras 5, Elephants 5
Hsieh Jia-shien's solo homer off reliever Hsiao Ren-wen in the top of the ninth sparked a three-run rally by the Cobras that forced a 5-5 tie with the Brother Elephants in Taichung on Friday.
The late-game rally by the Cobras denied Elephants right-hander Jonathan Hurst a chance for his team-leading sixth win of the year. Hurst allowed two runs on four this in eight frames in another quality start despite the loss.
Bears 4, Lions 3
Tempers flared in the contest between the Bears and the Lions at Tainan on Friday that featured a bench-clearing confrontation following the ejection of two pitchers for intentionally hitting an opposing batter.