Wednesday’s Foreplay Series Games 2 both came down to four closers in decisive ninth innings, one game the climax of a back-and-forth free-for-all, and the other a pitchers’ duel.
Marines 6, Buffaloes 5: At Osaka UFO Dome, Orix’s bullpen plan couldn’t protect a one-run ninth-inning lead, as the miraculous Marines avoided facing an elimination game on Friday.
For the second straight night, Lotte went into the late innings with a lead, thanks to good speed and a smoke-and-mirrors offense that relied on poorly hit balls finding holes. Lotte’s C.C. Mercedes attacked the zone in the first only to be ambushed for three runs. He left, however, with a 4-3 lead over Orix southpaw Daiki Tajima.
Also, for a second straight night, Lotte’s slim lead didn’t last, as the big swinging Buffaloes came from behind on a two-run Leandro Cedeno homer in the eighth. But Taisuke Yamaoka, who moved to the bullpen during the summer, from where he recorded eight holds, three saves and one win in relief let Lotte scratch out two runs.
After giving Yoshinobu Yamamoto a good battering with a series of well-placed balls on Wednesday, the Marines again scored in the first. Takashi Ogino drew a four-pitch leadoff walk. Good base running put runners on second and third with one out on a Yudai Fujioka single, allowing Gregory Polanco to bring in the first run with a groundout.
The Buffaloes responded by taking big cuts whenever Mercedes ventured into the strike zone. Hiromi Oka‘s sliding catch robbed Orix of a first-inning leadoff single, but five straight well-hit balls – ok four well-hit balls and a hard-hit chopper — weren’t caught, put the Buffaloes in front and loaded the bases for a third run to score on a Marwin Gonzalez sacrifice fly.
The Marines recaptured the lead with three runs in the sixth, starting their rally with two-out walks by Shingo Ishikawa and Polanco. Oka used his speed to turn a flare to left into an RBI double, and a Hisanori Yasuda grounder found a hole for a two-run single.
The Buffaloes again found their way back. Ninety-six kilogram righty Keisuke Sawada hit Tomoya Mori with a two-out pitch, and Cedeno hit a navel-high 0-1 fastball just over the wall in left. Yuki Udagawa then blew away all three hitters he faced, striking out Polanco on five straight fastballs to end the Marines’ eighth.
Gonzalez opened Orix’s eighth with a leadoff double and with one out, PL batting champion Yuma Tongu pinch-hit, his first appearance since breaking a toe on Sept. 13. Tongu showed no rust but lacked Lotte’s lucky hole-finding Marines mojo, the bullet off his bat finding a glove instead for the third out.
A day after 39-year-old Yoshihisa Hirano became the oldest to record a save in the postseason since the stat was imported in 1975, the next member of manager Satoshi Nakajima’s revolving closer squad, Yamaoka took the mound in the ninth. He walked Katsuya Kakunaka on four pitches, pinch-runner Koshiro Wada stole second and scored when Yasuda’s smash to first took a hop past first baseman Keita Nakagawa for an RBI single. Pinch-runner Ryusei Ogawa was sacrificed to third and scored the go-ahead run on Koki Yamaguchi‘s fly to medium-deep center.
Marines closer Naoya Masuda survived a two-out walk to Mori by striking out Cedeno to end it, allowing Lotte to reduce the Buffaloes’ series lead to 2-1.
Continue reading NPB news: Oct. 19, 2023