The Hanshin Tigers, whose season started under a bad star with seven straight losses, overcame a plague of errors to reach the playoffs only for their fatal flaw to do them in and bring the curtain down on Akihiro Yano’s tenure as manager.
The game was ripe with irony as Japan’s most potent slugger cleared the bases on a single that barely left his bat.
In Osaka, the Pacific League foreplay series will go on for at least another day. Orix, which tied SoftBank for the PL’s best record and won the pennant based on their better head-to-head record, lead their final stage 3-1 due to their automatic one-win advantage and wins in Games 2, and 3.
Swallows 6, Tigers 3: At Jingu Stadium, Koyo Aoyagi wove his side-arm magic into the seventh inning when the kind of bizarre plays that have been the Tigers’ Achilles heel this season resulted in a five-run inning.
Keiji Takahashi, pitching for the first time since being sidelined with COVID in August, walked the bases loaded in the second before striking out Aoyagi to end the inning.
Yusuke Oyama’s second leadoff walk and a Jefry Marte single set up Naomasa Yokawa for a sacrifice fly. Aoyagi doubled to lead off the fifth, and for the second time in the game, Takahashi threw out the lead runner at third on a bunt. But Fumiya Hojo doubled and both runners scored on Oyama’s two-out single.
Aoyagi scattered three hits and two walks over the first six innings, but Yakult loaded the bases on a one-out walk, Domingo Santana’s second. A two-out hit batsman, and a walk by Yasutaka Shiomi. First baseman Jefry Marte, ranging far to his right, went for the play in front of him, a force at second but threw it into left field for two-run error.
Reliever Masumi Hamachi walked the bases loaded to bring up Munetaka Murakami, and three runs scored in a most unexpected fashion. Murakami scuffed a 1-2 pitch down the first base line, fielded by the pitcher for an RBI infield single. Hamachi then unleashed a glove toss that would have got him banished from little league pitchers fielding practice to clear the bases and give Yakult a two-run lead.
“We depend on Mune, and he delivered for us with that breath-taking big hit,” manager Shingo Takatsu said as Jingu Stadium roared with laughter after his players threw him in the air in the customary “doage” ceremony for the second time this autumn.
“Every time they throw me higher and higher. It’s our foreign players and Mune doing that, and frankly, it is a little scary.”
After a scoreless inning from Swallows setup man Noboru Shimizu, a walk and Tetsuto Yamada’s two-out double – because of the drawn-in outfield – made it 6-3, and Scott McGough was overpowering in the ninth for his second save.
Hawks 3, Buffaloes 0: At Osaka Dome, Kodai Senga had his say in the final stage, allowing a walk and three hits over six-plus innings. Hawks leadoff man Masaki Mimori doubled and scored when Orix starter Daiki Tajima made a throwing error on the ensuing sacrifice. Alfredo Despaigne singled in speedster Ukyo Shuto from second, and after
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.
Rookie Isami Nomura made it 3-0 with a one-out homer in the seventh. Senga was pulled after Keita Nakagawa singled off his 81st pitch. The Hawks’ third pitcher, Yuki Matsumoto pitched out of the two-on one-out jam he inherited to keep the Buffaloes’ scoreless through seven, before Koya Fujii worked the eighth and Livan Moinelo survived a scare in the ninth.