Hsu Guo-long's walk-off solo home run off reliever Hsu Wen-hsiung in the bottom of the ninth snapped a 3-all tie in Wednesday's game between the Sinon Bulls and the La New Bears to give the home Bulls a 4-3 win in Taichung.
The victory upped the Bulls' slim lead over the second-placed Brother Elephants and the Macoto Cobras back to a full game in the latest standings, following the Bulls' 5-1 loss to the Bears on Tuesday night that had cut their lead down to a-half game over the Elephants and the Cobras in a tight title race.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE BROTHER ELEPHANTS
The classic seesaw battle between the two squads had the Bulls striking first in the bottom of the second on designated hitter Chen Tsung-fu's run-scoring double off La New starter Liang "Birdie" Rue-hao, before the Bears answered with a two-run fourth on slugger Huang Hsiao-wei's two-run homer and a one-run fifth on outfielder Huang Long-yi's RBI liner to center off Bulls ace Lenin Picota to claim a 3-1 advantage.
Down by a deuce, the Bulls would fight back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth on shortstop Chang "Red Monkey" Jia-hao's rare triple that chased Liang. La New setup man Hsu Wen-hsiung took over the mound and managed to keep the Bulls at bay with 3-2/3 frames of sound relief until Hsu Guo-long's game-winner in the final inning.
Picota just missed a chance to add to his league-best 15 wins in tossing seven innings of three-run ball, deferring the honor to fellow reliever Kuo Yong-chih, who won for the third time this season.
Bears 5, Bulls 1
Tuesday night's series opener in Taichung starred winning pitcher Bears righty Chris Wright, who bounced back nicely from a dismal start last weekend with seven solid innings of one-run ball for his fifth win of the season.
Led by second baseman Lin Chih-sheng's 3-for-5 night with a solo home run, the Bears hitters rang up a dozen hits between Sinon starter Jorge Cortez and reliever Yang Jien-fu in a game where they led the entire way.
Leftfielder Yu Hsien-ming's RBI double off Wright in the bottom of the fifth was the only thing that kept the Bulls from being shutout, as they stranded a total of six runners, two in scoring position, in a game that could have been much closer than the final score would indicate.
Sinon starter Cortez served up two homers in 6-2/3 innings of work for his first setback since joining the team late last month. The Panamanian native has pitched effectively for the Bulls in five starts and two relief appearances, holding an impressive 3-for-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio with an ERA of 1.66.
Cobras 3, Lions 1
Seven strong innings by Macoto righty Hsu Chu-jien, coupled with rookie Lin En-yu's two near-perfect innings of stellar relief, propelled the Cobras to a much needed 3-1 win over the President Lions in Hsinchuang on Monday to help the serpents keep pace with the league-leading Bulls.
The Hsu-Lin duo has quickly emerged to become the most reliable winning formula for skipper Kuo Tai-yuan as he prepares the first-half champs for the upcoming postseason.
The foreign bats did most of the damage for the Cobras with third baseman Wilton Veras and centerfielder Mario Encarnacion accounting for two of the three Cobras runs; the former on a lining double to left in the top of the first and the latter via a solo homer to straight-away center off Lions starter Pan "Du Du" Wei-luen in the bottom of the sixth for his 17th long ball of the season.
Pan kept his team in the game by allowing only three runs to a potent Cobras offense, but fell victim to a lack of run support, as he came up empty on his second attempt to pocket his tenth win of the season.
Whales 5, Elephants 3
Five unanswered runs by the Chinatrust Whales dealt the Elephants a crucial loss in Tuesday's makeup game between the two clubs at Hsinchuang, as the Whales kept their playoff hopes alive with a 5-3 come-from-behind win.
After surrendering three early runs to the Elephants in the second inning, Whales starter Tseng Jau-hao settled in and did not allow another base runner until the top of the sixth. His fine effort off the mound gave the Whales offense a chance to rally, resulting in a valiant comeback victory.
Picking up the win for the Whales was reliever Shen Yu-jeh, pitching a shutout seventh, while closer Dario Veras was credited with the save to up his league-leading save total to 21.
With just a game separating the top three squads of the league in the latest standings, the remaining three weeks of competition will certainly have a bearing on how the postseason will shape up.
The Bulls can gain some breathing room in the title race if they can beat the Bears in Games 3 and 4 of the series scheduled for Kaohsiung tonight and tomorrow afternoon. As for the second-placed Elephants and Cobras, the Elephants' visit to the Lions in Tainan yesterday, tomorrow and Sunday could mean the difference between a postseason berth or an early offseason. US right-handers Jonathan Hurst and Bronswell Patrick will have to put in a strong showing this week if their team is to keep its playoff hopes alive, since the Elephants bullpen has not been consistent at all.
The Cobras take on the Whales in a three-game set starting with yesterday's series opener at Hsinchuang before tonight's rematch and Sunday's series finale in Tienmu.
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