NPB news: Nov. 4, 2023

A day late here, because of a long night banging out potential clinching stories for the day job, so I was too whacked to write about Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s marvelous Game 6 with the series on the line after he’d been beat up in his last three postseason starts since 2022’s Game 1.

I didn’t have access to TV or highlights again, so I had to depend on my bird’s-eye view of home plate, meaning I could distinguish a few pitches sometimes but mostly just whether the ball was over the plate or not.

Saturday’s Game 6

Buffaloes 5, Tigers 1: At Kyocera UFO Dome, Shoki Murakami returned to Osaka for a rematch with Japan’s ace of aces, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Murakami tried as hard as he could to get the outside strikes both pitchers got in Game 1, but ump Atsushi Fukuya wasn’t playing, and the Tigers rookie and catcher Seishiro Sakamoto got behind in counts trying to get strikes three or four inches off the outside corner.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s 14 strikeouts in Japan Series Game 6.

Sheldon Neuse hit Hanshin’s first Japan Series home run since Katsumi Hirosawa hit a ninth-inning pinch-hit homer on Oct. 27, 2003 in his final professional at-bat off the now 42-year-old Tsuyoshi Wada. The Tigers put two on with one out and were one big hit from taking a big lead but Yamamoto struck out two and left the bases load.

“Even after the home run, I was calm and able to pitch in a relaxed fashion,” he said.

Two runs in the bottom of the second put Orix in front, and Hanshin came within a hair of taking the lead on a fly to the wall that the Buffaloes’ regular catcher, Tomoya Mori, did not get a good jump on, but he timed it and caught it to rob Koji Chikamoto of a two-run triple, and Yamamoto turned on the jets.

With a 4-1 lead after Kotaro Kurebayashi’s two-run fifth-inning homer, Yamamoto crossed the 100-pitch barrier in a seventh inning when he surrendered a pair of two-out singles. After throwing 126 pitches through eight, Yuma Tongu’s second homer of the series made it 5-1.

Yamamoto came out for the ninth and worked around a single with his 13th and 14th strikeouts, tying and them moving past the Japan Series record set by Kimiyasu Kudo and tied by Yu Darvish.

“My breaking pitches were working really well,” he said a week after his plus curveball deserted him in Game 1. “I threw my fastball enough to where I felt I had a good balance. Of course, I’m indebted to Mori for that catch. About the fourth and fifth innings, I got into a real good rhythm.”

Some Tigers fans complained that Yamamoto was getting favorable strike calls. I couldn’t see the pitches to see if Fukuya was being inconsistent, but I have noticed that teams are not all equal in how easy it is for them to get called strikes in certain counts, and Hanshin’s pitchers have been Japan’s second biggest benefactor of umpiring strike calls.

If the ump was consistent, then Yamamoto was just taking what he was being given, which is no different from what Murakami did in Game 1 with an ump who has handing both pitchers low and wide strikes. In that game, he was able to hit his spots while Yamamoto was missing so much with his curve that he rarely had the luxury.

For Game 7, Orix is sending Hiroya Miyagi, while Hanshin is going with right-handed side-armer Koyo Aoyagi.

Miyagi has won his last three postseason starts with no runs over 17 innings, including Game 7 in 2022 — although that was not an elimination game for the Buffaloes.

Aoyagi has not pitched since Sept. 29.

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