And that is a wrap for the Japan Series. For the first time in nine years, a Central League team took home the big prize.
The Yakult Swallows prevailed in Japan’s first extra-inning game in over a year to take the series in six over the Orix Buffaloes, who extended their Japan Series victory drought to 25 years, tying the franchise record set by the Hankyu Braves from 1950 to 1974.
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It was a very narrow series victory for the Swallows. Only Game 2’s 2-0 shutout by Yakult’s Keiji Takahashi was decided by more than a run, and just in terms of the quality of the at-bats, the Swallows were lucky to split the first two games.
There was talk after the Hawks swept the Yomiuri Giants the past two years, that PL hitters were better at staying on good fastballs because they see more of them during the season.
But some of that may be to do with the approach. I may be talking out of my ass, but the difference to me is that the Swallows’ staff may be the most aggressive in Japan, and were consistently getting ahead in counts. The Buffaloes hitters saw tons of fastballs in the zone, and over the course of the series, they weren’t particularly good at dealing with them. When Orix hitters did get really good swings, especially in the first two games, they hit into a ton of bad luck.
Japan Series Game 6
Swallows 2, Buffaloes 1
At Hotto Motto Field Kobe: Japan and Orix ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto allowed a run over nine innings, but Orix’s offense, which improved this year from decrepit to competent, just couldn’t get enough good swings against the Central League’s best pitching staff on a night where the temperature at game time was 8 C.
I figured that if Yamamoto lasted eight innings, Yakult would be hard-pressed to win this, but the Swallows’ pitchers, as a group, did just as good a job of getting ahead in counts and dictating the pace of the game. As a result, the Buffaloes’ lone run was more or less accidental rather than any kind of reflection on the quality of either the hitting, pitching and fielding involved.
We had five innings of scoreless baseball, then some scoring, then another five innings of scoreless ball, before the Swallows scraped out a run after two were gone against Ryo Yoshida (0-2). Yasutaka Shiomi singled and, with ace pinch-hitter Shingo Kawabata at the plate, went to second on a wild pitch. On a 3-2 pitch, Kawabata made just enough contact the loft the ball over short and not enough to give left fielder Masataka Yoshida a play at the plate on the speedy Shiomi.
The teams swapped fifth-inning runs with single, sacrifice, single sequences. Jose Osuna led off with single, was sacrificed to second, and scored on a Shiomi single to left–when the throw was cut off despite having some small chance of getting the runner.
The Buffaloes’ run was a cascade of flukes against starter Hirotoshi Takanashi. Catcher Kenya Wakatsuki reached on a one-out infield single when his poorly hit ball took a funny hop that caused second baseman Tetsuto Yamada to hit the deck and made his throw hard to catch at first. After a sacrifice, leadoff man Shuhei Fukuda’s little squibber of a fly ball bounced past short but was scooped up in left by Norichika Aoki, who had the runner dead at the plate only for the ball to strike Wakatsuki in the arm and bounce away.
That was all for Takanashi, who struck out seven over 4-2/3 innings. Albert Suarez worked 2-1/3 innings. Setup man Noboru Shimizu looked like he was going to give the game away by not being able to locate his forkball, but pitched out of a two-on, one-out eighth-inning pickle, and overcame a leadoff walk in the ninth.
Yamamoto hung in for nine innings, striking out 11 while allowing six hits, a walk and a hit batsman in his 141-pitch game.
Kazuto Taguchi, the Swallows’ lone lefty in the pen, got Yuma Mune and Yoshida to open the 10th, before Scott McGough (1-2), who took the loss in each of Yakult’s two defeats, caught PL home run king Yutaro Sugimoto looking to end the inning. He then retired seven of the eight batters he faced to earn the win and close it out.
Yoshihisa Hirano relieved Yamamoto in the 10th and worked around Norichik Aoki two-out double. Nomi got Munetaka Murakami to open the 11th and Tomoki Higa retired two of the next three right-handed hitters. Lefty Ryowa Tomiyama started the ninth and retired the last two hitters in the order. Ryo Yoshida lacked his best movement and location on his normally nasty slider and couldn’t get the third out fast enough to keep Yakult off the board.
Swallows catcher Yuhei “Mucho” Nakamura was named series MVP. He had seven hits and three RBIs but was also recognized for his work with the pitchers, which to my mind meant he continually kept steering them into working aggressively in the zone.