The Orix Buffaloes and Yakult Swallows remained on track for their franchises’ third Japan Series clash on Thursday as each held its Foreplay Series final stage opponent scoreless for the second straight day. The Pacific and Central league champs each need no more than a single tie over the remaining four games to clinch, while their opponents will each need to score at least one run on Friday to avoid climaxing in a nine-inning 0-0 tie.
Thursday’s FS games
Buffaloes 2, Marines 0
At Kyocera Dome Osaka, Daiki Tajima allowed three singles and a walk, struck out five, faced two batters over the minimum during his six innings and left with a lead after PL home run leader Yutaro Sugimoto’s two-run sixth-inning home run.
Lotte’s Manabu Mima was the unfortunate loser, leaving the game after being hit on the leg by a scorching two-out drive in the sixth off the bat of Masataka Yoshida. Yusuke Azuma entered and missed with his first pitch, and Sugimoto lined it off the third-deck facing for his first postseason home run.
Ryo Yoshida worked the seventh for the Buffaloes and gave up a two-out double, but that was the last runner Lotte would manage, thanks to a terrific pick by first baseman Takahiro Okada to rob Hiromi Oka of a leadoff hit in the eighth. Instead, Tyler Higgins worked a 1-2-3 eighth, and Yoshihisa Hirano did the same in the ninth to shut it down.
Swallows 5, Giants 0
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Yomiuri loaded the bases against Keiji Takahashi with two outs in the first on a double and two walks, but Hiroyuki Nakajima struck out to end the inning and the lefty had little trouble through the rest of his six innings as he used his electric fastball in the zone to strike out eight.
Yomiuri ace Tomoyuki Sugano, working on four-days rest, did his best to stay out of the strike zone but had limited success getting batters to chase. A Munetaka Murakami single and two walks loaded the bases with one out in the second, and Naomuchi Nishiura’s booming sacrifice fly put Yakult up 1-0.
With the score still 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth, Zelous Wheeler overran a Murakami single but was not charged with an error when the Swallows cleanup hitter chugged into second with a double. Hayato Sakamoto then made a wide throw on a grounder. Nakajijma, playing first base, made a careless effort to tag the runner putting two on.
A sacrifice and a strikeout opened first base, and the Giants accepted that as an invitation to walk the bases loaded with the pitcher’s spot coming up. Instead ace pinch-hitter Shingo Kawabata battled back from an 0-2 count to walk in a run. Yomiuri drew in its outfield and Yasutaka Shiomi hit a fly to the gap that went for a three-run triple, although it probably would have feel even with the outfield at normal depth.
“Things were not going our way and it got to the point where it was, ‘It’s time to act now,’ so I acted. You have to do something to force a reaction from the other team. That’s how you turn things around.”–Giants manager Tatsunori Hara on his loading the bases with an intentional walk that sparked a game-breaking four-run inning.
Albert Suarez, Noboru Shimizu and Scott McGough then closed it out.
Friday’s starting pitchers
Buffaloes vs Marines: Kyocera Dome Osaka 6 pm, 4 am EST
Soichiro Yamazaki (2-2, 3.69) vs Daiki Iwashita (8-8, 4.43)
Swallows vs Giants: Jingu Stadium 6 pm, 4 am EST
Juri Hara (3-1, 2.30) vs C.C. Mercedes (7-5, 3.77)