For many non-Japanese NPB fans, this year’s playoffs have been one of the least exciting in recent memory. The Yomiuri Giants swept the Hanshin Tigers, and the Chiba Lotte Marines clinched their series against the Rakuten Eagles with a tie. If you don’t like the one-game advantage given to the pennant winners, and you don’t care for ties, then this was not a fun week for you. But on the bright side, last year’s cellar-dwellers are playing their best baseball in November… and that’s a story worth following, right? Here are summaries of the second round of the playoffs for you.
Central League: Yomiuri Giants @ Yakult Swallows
Game 1 (November 10): Shun Yamaguchi vs. Yasunobu Okugawa
The Swallows struck first with three runs in the bottom of the first. Yasutaka Shiomi scored on a Munetaka Murakami fly out to shortstop (shallow left), which was followed by a Domingo Santana two-run home run. Twenty-year-old Okugawa Madduxed the Giants, shutting them out in fewer than 100 pitches. Final Score: Swallows 3, Giants 0
Game 2 (November 11): Tomoyuki Sugano vs. Keiji Takahashi
Once again, the home team scored first on a sacrifice fly, this time in the second inning. They added four more runs in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to a bases-loaded walk and a Shiomi bases-clearing triple. Takahashi allowed just two hits in his six innings of work, and the bullpen allowed just one base runner in the final three frames to complete the shutout. Final Score: Swallows 5, Giants 0
Game 3 (November 12): Cristopher Mercedes vs. Juri Hara
The Giants scored their first run of the series in the top of the third inning, as a walk and a single put a runner on third for Hayato Sakamoto, who hit a sacrifice fly to center. Mercedes pitched six shutout innings of one-hit ball, but Rubby de la Rosa took over in the seventh and stumbled: a hit and two walks loaded the bases, and Norichika Aoki singled to left and two men scored. The Giants got one back in the top of the eighth (Taishi Hirooka hit an RBI infield single), but were unable to take back the lead. Scott McGough recorded three outs in the top of the ninth, and the Giants were eliminated in a game that they did not lose. Final Score: Swallows 2, Giants 2
Pacific League: Chiba Lotte Marines @ Orix Buffaloes
Game 1 (November 10): Ayumu Ishikawa vs. Yoshinobu Yamamoto
A first-inning RBI single from T-Okada put the Buffaloes in the driver’s seat early, and that was all they needed. Ace Yamamoto went the distance, striking out 10 Marines and allowing just four singles. Final Score: Buffaloes 1, Marines 0
Game 2 (November 11): Manabu Mima vs. Daiki Tajima
This one was also a pitchers’ duel as both entered the sixth inning without surrendering a run. Tajima got through the top of the inning, and Mima looked to do the same, but surrendered a single to Masataka Yoshida that caromed off his leg and ended his night prematurely. The next batter, Yutaro Sugimoto, crushed a home run on the first pitch he saw from reliever Yusuke Azuma. The Buffaloes bullpen only allowed one baserunner in the game’s final three innings to seal the shutout. Final Score: Buffaloes 2, Marines 0
Game 3 (November 12): Daiki Iwashita vs. Soichiro Yamazaki
The Marines scored their first run of the series in the top of the third inning, as an infield single and a double put two runners in scoring position for Shogo Nakamura, who hit a sacrifice fly to left. Iwashita pitched well through five innings but gave up a leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth (just the second hit he had given up all game) and then Yuma Mune hit the first pitch he saw to deep right. The Buffaloes were unable to hold their lead, though, as the Marines posted a run in each of the seventh (Toshiya Sato RBI single) and eighth innings (Nakamura solo home run). However, the Buffaloes pulled off the extremely rare walk-off series-clinching tie game, when T-Okada singled, Ryoichi Adachi faked bunt and reached base on a single to left, and then Yuya Oda did the same thing, but down the first base line. Though technically, Adachi could have scored on the ensuing error, the run was unneeded. Final Score: Buffaloes 3x, Marines 3
The Japan Series starts this coming Saturday evening at Kyocera Dome Osaka. The Buffaloes will host the Swallows there for two games. After a day off on Monday, the Swallows will then play their home games at Tokyo Dome on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (if necessary). Friday is another travel day, and if next weekend is needed to complete the series, Games 6 and 7 will be played at Hotto Motto Field in Kobe. Both Meiji Jingu Stadium and Kyocera Dome have previous bookings that cannot be moved, so NPB needs to flex a little. No matter what, the 2021 champs will be a team that has not won in 20+ years.