NPB news: Nov. 2, 2023

Japan Series Game 5 was played at Koshien Stadium Thursday, with the series tied 2-2 after Hanshin’s 4-3 walk-off win Wednesday.

Thursday’s Game 5

Tigers 6, Buffaloes 2: At Koshien Stadium, Orix’s bullpen spoiled a Koshien feel-good story for Daiki Tajima, who left with a 2-0 lead in the eighth with Masato Morishita making up for a poor game with a come-from-behind two-run triple off rookie Yuki Udagawa.

Soichiro Yamazaki, Orix’s second pitcher, surrendered a run on singles by Seiya Kinami, pinch-hitter Kento Itohara and Koji Chikamoto. After a sacrifice, Udagawa inherited runners on second and third with one out, and with the outfield in, Morishita,  put a remarkable swing on a low 2-2 fastball and found the gap in left.  Prior to that at-bat, Morishita was 0-for-3, grounded into a double play, was caught stealing and committed a run-scoring error.

“He had been terrible today,” Tigers manager Akinobu Okada said. “But at the end, with everybody saying to each other, ‘take it up the middle, take it up the middle,’ in his final at-bat, he took care of business the way a No. 3 hitter should.”

Yusuke Oyama, whose one-out sayonara single earned the Tigers a 4-3 win on Wednesday, singled home Morishita, and Udagawa who had sparkled in the postseason since last year, left the field in tears. Sheldon Neuse walked off new pitcher Shota Abe. With two outs and the outfield in, Seishiro Sakamoto fouled off two two-strike pitches before flying to the warning track for an easy two-run triple.

The Buffaloes scored first for the second time in the series, on Marwin Gonzalez’s fourth-inning solo homer off Kotaro Otake, who just missed giving up a second to Kotaro Kurebayashi, who doubled off the top of the wall.

“It felt good at that time, but we didn’t get the win,” Gonzalez said. “That’s what we need right now. If you don’t win the ballgame, it doesn’t matter what you do.”

“I love the (Japan Series) fans. I love the energy they bring to the field. (Koshien) is a really hard infield to play on. We’re still alive. As long as we’re alive, we’ve got a chance. We just focus on the game after tomorrow and go from there.”

The Tigers were gifted an out in the Buffaloes’ seventh when Tajima led off with a walk but was forced at second on Yuma Mune’s one-out flare. Mune, however, scored from first thanks to two errors on the next play. Mune took third when second baseman Takumu Nakano failed to stop a grounder, and scored when right fielder Morishita overran the ball.

Reliever Atsuki Yuasa, who was supposed to be the Tigers’ closer this year after contributing to Japan’s World Baseball Classic championship in March, had been out for over four months before facing one batter on Wednesday. He took out the bottom of the Orix order in the eighth and earned the win after his Japan teammate Udagawa allowed Hanshin to plate the runners he inherited.

“I wasn’t any use to the team during the season, so I’m really happy to contribute in the Japan Series,” said Yuasa, who was deactivated to find his form on June 15. “I’m so happy to be able to pitch well in front of the tremendous support that one can get nowhere but Koshien.”

The Tigers come-from-behind win puts them in the driver’s seat to win the Central League’s second Japan Series championship since 2012. The Tigers, who waited 35 years to win their first after the tournament was inaugurated in 1950’s expansion, have now waited another 38 years for their second.

Had Orix held on for the win, it would have been a special Koshien moment for Tajima, who in 2014 had thrown three straight complete-game victories at the ballpark, two for extra-innings to pitch his Sano Nichidai High School into the spring invitational semifinals for the first time in 40 years.

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