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Thanks to the guys at Pro Yakyu News, we know this was the ninth straight Japan Series game played between Yakult and Orix that was decided by two runs or less, with Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu earning the win in 1995 Game 3, when Yakult scored three in the 10th to beat Ichiro Suzuki’s BlueWave on a three-run walk-off homer.
Bigger than that was the news that Yoshinobu Yamamoto left the game due to discomfort in his left oblique muscles, and his availability for further use is up in the air. The game played out to form with the big power-hitting team winning the outdoor game with offense suppressed by the cold weather as the team that relies the most on a long-sequence offense stranding 12 runners.
Swallows 5, Buffaloes 3: At Jingu Stadium, Yakult opened the scoring on a fluke two-run first-inning double. A Yasutaka Shiomi leadoff single, a stolen base and a four-pitch walk to triple crown winner Munetaka Murakami set the table for Jose Osuna, whose sharp grounder hit the outside of the third base bag and rolled into the corner.
Swallows starter Yasuhiro Ogawa worked a 1-2-3 first, but walked Masataka Yoshida to open the second, and continued to fall behind in counts. He surrendered three sharply hit balls, the first caught for an out, the next loading the bases on singles by Masahiro Nishino and Kenya Wakatsuki. Kotaro Kurebayashi lined a single to right for one run, and Shuhei Fukuda took what looked like Strike 2 for Ball 4 to tie it.
The call wasn’t really an aberration as home plate ump Chikara Tsugawa, a former Swallow, had a consistently narrow strike zone for everyone.
After a couple of well-hit balls failed to carry out, Shiomi got enough of a center-cut 1-2 fastball from Yamamoto to take it out to center for a 3-2 Swallows lead in the third. Yamamoto missed again with a high hanging first-pitch cutter to Osuna to open the fourth, and the Venezuelan made it 4-2.
The Buffaloes wasted a one-out single when Yuma Mune was thrown out on a 2-0 run-and-hit. Keita Nakagawa tripled, Yoshida walked for the second time, and Ogawa hit Yutaro Sugimoto with a pitch to load them again before getting a pop fly to end it.
Yamamoto left with discomfort in his left obliques after throwing three pitches in the Swallows’ fifth but 39-year-old Motoki Higa retired the side with ease. Ogawa had enough trouble throwing strikes without an umpire giving him less room for error, but was able to leave the bases loaded twice, allowing just two runs over five innings for his first Series win.
Orix relievers Hitomi Honda and Shota Abe each stranded a pair of runners in the sixth and seventh, while Swallows rookie Naofumi Kizawa, after some counseling at the mound from Osuna, overcame a slew of balls and a leadoff walk, to work a scoreless sixth. Kazuto Taguchi worked a scoreless seventh before the Buffaloes got to setup man Noboru Shimizu for a run in the eighth.
Playing for a run by sacrificing after a leadoff single, Buffaloes manager Satoshi Nakajima got what he paid for with a Takahiro Okada two-out RBI flare pinch-hit single. The Swallows canceled that out when Munetaka Murakami, who hit a warning-track drive in the fifth, hit an impressive homer in the eighth off Yoshihisa Hirano.
Scott McGough, who blew a two-run 10th-inning lead in Game 1 in Osaka a year ago, allowed a one-out single and walked Yoshida, who only made out when he smoked a grounder into the shift, but got out of trouble to earn the save.
Cy Sneed will go for Yakult on Sunday against Sachiya Yamasaki for the Buffaloes.