Yutaro Sugimoto has emerged from a year of hibernation on a day of big hits for the defending league champions’ biggest sluggers.
Yutaro “Raoh” Sugimoto, whose 2022 season has been a pale imitation of his breakout 2021, was Mr. RBI for the Orix Buffaloes for the second straight day. In Tokyo, Munetaka Murakami, after missing fat pitches for most of the past three weeks, hit a tough one in the seats to propel the Yakult Swallows into a commanding position in the CL’s foreplay series final stage.
Swallows 5, Tigers 3: At Jingu Stadium, in a game frequently interrupted by pouring rain and wind, Hanshin took a 1-0 first-inning lead off Cy Sneed on a Takumu Nakano leadoff triple and a Koji Chikamoto single. Sneed struck out Chikamoto to end the second with the bases loaded, worked a 1-2-3 third, and got a lead in the home half on Murakami’s first homer of the postseason.
Shintaro Fujinami did what he does, throw some terrific pitches while frequently missing the strike zone, threw a good 3-2 low-and-away fastball to Murakami with two outs and a man on. Murakami went down for it and lofted it into the left-field stands.
Sneed left after 5-2/3 innings, having allowed seven hits and two walks, and rookie Takuma Kubo got two outs with two on, but the Tigers made it close with Chikamoto twice scoring on Jefry Marte sac flies before Scott McGough closed it out.
Buffaloes 4, Hawks 3: At Osaka Dome, this game had no lack of action, and was finely balanced until Yutaro Sugimoto put a big dent in it.
Sugimoto’s RBI infield single tied it 1-1 in the bottom of the first after SoftBank scratched out a run off Hiroya Miyagi to start the game. Masataka Yoshida tried to score when shortstop Kenta Imamiya lost the handle on Sugimoto’s grounder, but was thrown out at the plate.
Orix center fielder Shuhei Fukuda robbed Takuya Kai of an RBI double to end the Hawks’ second, while the Buffaloes’ second ended at the plate again, when Taisei Makihara gunned down Ryoichi Adachi trying to score from third on a one-out bases-loaded fly to center.
SoftBank made it 2-1 in the top of the third, when Yuki Yanagita doubled home Ukyo Shuto in the third, but singles by Keita Nakagawa and Yoshida set up Masahiro Nishino for a sac fly off SoftBank starter Yugo Bando. Sugimoto chased Bando with a single, and Tomohisa Ozeki got two outs with two on.
Yanagita had a chance to break the tie in the fifth but Miyagi struck him out to end the inning. Yoshida reached base for the third time, leading off the Buffaloes fifth against Ozeki, who missed dead center against Sugimoto, who put it in the third deck.
The Swallows and Buffaloes each need to tie only one game by Monday’s Game 6 to reach the Japan Series. On Friday, Hanshin’s best, side-armer Koyo Aoyagi will take the mound against Yakult lefty Keiji Takahashi, who hasn’t pitched since a bout with COVID in August. In Osaka, it will be Hawks ace Kodai Senga against Orix’s Daiki Tajima.