NPB Wrap 11-20-21

The Japan Series opened and just when all the breaks were going the Yakult Swallows’ way and they were headed for a 3-1 win in the ninth, they suddenly weren’t.

On a sub-par night from Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the Swallows’ bullpen allowed seven runners while getting just three outs, and the Orix Buffaloes extended the PL’s home series win streak to 20 games, and the PL’s series win streak to 13.

Buffaloes 4, Swallows 3

At Kyocera Dome Osaka, Yakult got the start they needed from rookie Yasunobu Okugawa, who allowed a run over seven but could have been routed early, and were able to drive Yamamoto’s pitch count up and get him out of the game after six innings.

The Buffaloes came within a hair of two runs in the second, when catcher Kenya Wakatsuki hit a two-out drive to the wall, only to be foiled when Takeshi Miyamoto, slammed into the wall to make the grab and end the inning. The Swallows’ choice of defense over offense with the DH, worked out as regular right fielder Domingo Santana, their DH, wouldn’t have caught it.

Masataka Yoshida, who hit the ball hard three times but had just one hit, albeit a walk-off double, hit a smoking liner in the third, with a runner on second, but hit it straight to short for an out.

Yoshida, who missed nearly a month at the end of the season after being hit with a pitch, was certain he had a three-run fifth-inning homer when he hammered a bad pitch from Okugawa, but center fielder Yasutaka Shiomi was able to haul it in on the track in dead center.

The Swallows stranded five runners through five innings after a bunch of scratch singles and an error but cashed in when Yamamoto walked two in the sixth and Yuhei Nakamura lined an RBI single that brought home Tetsuto Yamada.

After a scoreless seventh from Orix reliever Ryo Yoshida, Steven Moya hit another Okugawa mistake but this time got enough of it, hitting it into the dome’s third deck for a game-tying pinch-hit homer.

Tyler Higgins took over in the eighth for Orix but surrendered the lead on a Yamada single and a two-run homer by Munetaka Murakami, whose 39 homers tied for the CL lead this season. Higgins put two on with two outs but escaped further trouble.

The Buffaloes nearly came back against CL holds leader Noboru Shimizu in the eighth, but he caught Rangel Ravelo looking for an inning-ending strikeout with the potential tying runs on. But that would be the last out Yakult would manage.

Tomoki Higa worked a 1-2-3 ninth for Orix, but Yakult closer Scott McGough quickly got into a heap of trouble. Rookie Kotaro Kurebayashi put a good swing on a 3-2 fastball and singled, and Adam Jones worked a seven-pitch walk.

McGough then failed to get the lead runner on Shuhei Fukuda’s sacrifice bunt, as the Buffaloes loaded the bases on the fielder’s choice. The luck then swung the other way, as Yuma Mune grounded a 1-2 forkball out of the zone and it took a funky bounce into center field for a two-run single.

The Swallows then do what the Swallows do when Shingo Takatsu is in charge. They bring the outfield in. A high fastball first-pitch fastball, that would have been lined straight to Shiomi had he been playing at normal depth, got over his head for a game-winning hit. Yoshida was credited with a double because he crossed second before the runner scored.

The rally prevented Higgins from becoming the first PL pitcher to lose a series game at home since Masahiro Tanaka took a complete-game loss in 20137s Game 6 in Sendai, which is also the last series game won by the Yomiuri Giants.

The PL is now three wins away from matching the CL’s record of winning nine straight series (from 1965 to 1973, all by the Giants).

After the game, laconic Buffaloes skipper Satoshi Nakajima, who played for Orix in the franchise’s last two Japan Series, in 1995 (against the Swallows) and 1996, said, “This is good” which gave the crowd a laugh.

“No. Quite amazing,” he added.

  • You said you’d pursue these games just as you would in the regular season and wanted the players to do the same. How is that going?
    • Nakajima: “Really badly. Compared to our usual way, we were a little tight.”
  • –At the finish your team grinded. Could you tell us about that?
    • Nakajima: “We didn’t give up. Jones did a good job of drawing that walk, and we built a rally without every giving up.”
  • –What are your thoughts going forward in the series?
    • Nakajima:“I want us just to focus on competing in one game at a time. I have the impression that our opponents are really, really strong. So for us, I want us to have an even stronger spirit as we get after it.”

Orix will, according to Nakajima, start rookie lefty Hiroya Miyagi in Game 2. We don’t know about the Swallows.

I was watching Fuji TV’s broadcast with former Swallows catcher and BayStars manager Akihiko Oya as the analyst. One of the best things they brought was talking about Yakult’s first series clash in 1978, against these opponents then the Hankyu Braves.

That series, which was famous for a decisive three-run home run that Braves manager Toshiharu Ueda claimed was foul, and Oya had a lot to say about that play, Ueda’s tantrum, that series and that team, with the comment that “Charlie Manuel didn’t get along well with manager Tatsuro Hirooka.”

I found that interesting because Manuel has since told me he learned a lot from the hard-ass Hirooka, and it helped him have success when he moved on to great success with the PL’s Kintetsu Buffaloes.

The other thing that caught my attention was how often they talked about how Okugawa shut down the heart of the Buffaloes order. That was true as far as PL home run king Yutaro Sugimoto, who really had a nightmare game, but Yoshida came oh so close to being a one-man wrecking crew.

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