Greetings, and happy early Thanksgiving to you all! I don’t know about you, but I am thankful for still being able to watch NPB this late in the year! Not only that, but the quality of play and closeness of the series through two games is a real treat after a rather lackluster Climax Series, not to mention the last several one-sided Japan Series. Both the Yakult Swallows (Central) and Orix Buffaloes (Pacific) finished in last place in 2020, but you would never guess it by how well they played in 2021! This series has all the makings of an historical gem!
Game 1: Saturday, November 20 @ Kyocera Dome Osaka
Starting Pitchers: Yasunobu Okugawa (Swallows) vs. Yoshinobu Yamamoto (Buffaloes)
Both offenses managed to put runners on base in the game’s first five innings, but the starters were just too good. Okugawa escaped the second inning when right-fielder Takeru Miyamoto made a jumping catch at the right-field wall. The very next inning, Yamamoto struck out Tetsuto Yamada and Munetaka Murakami with two runners on base to keep his shutout going. Then in the bottom of the fifth, Masataka Yoshida hit a ball to the warning track that could have broken the game wide open but did not. Yamamoto was dominant but ran up his pitch count, and it caught up with him in the sixth. He walked Yamada and Domingo Santana, and catcher Yuhei Nakamura knocked in the opening run of the series with a single to center. Yamamoto’s night ended after that inning and his team down a run. In the bottom of the seventh, the Buffaloes got it back with a pinch-hit home run from Steven Moya. However, Tyler Higgins came in to pitch the top of the eighth and surrendered a single to Yamada and a two-run home run to Murakami. The Buffaloes had a chance in the bottom of the inning but came up short… until the bottom of the ninth. Kotaro Kurebayashi led off with a single, Adam Jones walked, and Shuhei Fukuda reached on a fielder’s choice – his bunt was fielded by Swallows closer Scott McGough and thrown errantly to third, resulting in a no outs, bases-loaded situation. Yuma Mune drove a ball into center for two runs to tie the game, and Masataka Yoshida clubbed the first pitch he saw over a drawn-in outfield for the walk-off win.
Final Score: Buffaloes 4, Swallows 3
Winning Pitcher: Motoki Higa / Losing Pitcher: Scott McGough
Buffaloes lead series, 1-0
Game 2: Sunday, November 21 @ Kyocera Dome Osaka
Starting Pitchers: Keiji Takahashi (Swallows) vs. Hiroya Miyagi (Buffaloes)
Once again, the young pitchers brought their A-games. Miyagi did not allow a single base runner through five innings, and blanked the Swallows through seven. On the other end, although Takahashi allowed a hit in each of the first five innings, none of those runners advanced past second base. And from there, his lone blemish was an eighth-inning walk. He went the distance, throwing 133 pitches and striking out five. The Swallows offense got the job done in each of the final two frames, chasing Miyagi with a walk and two hits (the last of which was a Norichika Aoki RBI single) to break the tie in the eighth. In the ninth, they manufactured a run off reliever Cesar Vargas when Jose Osuna knocked a single into right, which was bobbled by Yutaro Sugimoto, allowing the lead runner to score. The game ended with Adam Jones striking out on a Takahashi curveball.
Final Score: Swallows 2, Buffaloes 0
Winning Pitcher: Keiji Takahashi / Losing Pitcher: Hiroya Miyagi
Series tied, 1-1
The next three games take place at Tokyo Dome on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. (The Swallows’ home park, Meiji Jingu Stadium, is being used for the annual Meiji Jingu Baseball Tournament.) Should more games be needed to decide the victors, the teams return to Kansai to play out the series at Hotto Motto Field in Kobe over the weekend. (Kyocera Dome is booked by a pop group for a three-day concert Friday through Sunday.) Kudos to these clubs for their excellent play so far! May the best team win… but really, we are all winners for being able to witness such great performances!