Japan Series – Hanshin Tigers vs. Orix Buffaloes
The wait is finally over for the Hanshin Tigers and their fans. It has been a long 38 years since their first Japan Series championship back in 1985. “The Curse of the Colonel” supposedly ended last night, but has a new one begun? Read on for details. We start with the series knotted at one game apiece, heading to Koshien Stadium for the middle three games of the series.
Game 3: Kohei Azuma vs. Masashi Itoh
The Tigers took a quick lead in the second, thanks to an RBI grounder from catcher Seishiro Sakamoto. The Buffaloes fought back in the game’s middle innings, as Yuma Tongu hit a solo home run in the fourth, followed by a Yume Mune two-RBI double in the fifth (plus a run scoring on a ground-out), and a Kenya Wakatsuki sacrifice fly in the sixth. The Tigers mounted a fierce comeback in the seventh with Takumu Nakano (1) and Shota Morishita (2) knocking in runs. The Tigers knocked on the door in the next two innings, but were unable to bring home the tying run.
Final Score: Buffaloes 5, Tigers 4
Game 4: Sachiya Yamasaki vs. Hiroto Saiki
Seeking to avenge the home loss of the previous day, Morishita got to work early, bringing home Koji Chikamoto on a double off the left-field wall. The Buffaloes immediately tied it in the top of the second, thanks to Kotaro Kurebayashi muscling a ball over the first baseman and into shallow right. However, the Tigers once again pulled away, as Chikamoto helped Kinami find his way home in the second, and Ohyama returned the favor to Chikamoto in the fifth. Not a team to hand wins to other teams on platters, the Buffaloes stormed back in the seventh on a two-run single from Mune. They looked poised to take their first lead of the game in that inning or the next, but the Tigers’ pitchers clamped down. In the bottom of the ninth, Koshien Stadium was treated to the lone walkoff win of the series, with Ohyama slapping a single through the left side of the infield, scoring Chikamoto from third.
Final Score: Tigers 4x, Buffaloes 3
Game 5: Daiki Tajima vs. Koutaro Ohtake
The game was silent until Marwin Gonzalez tattooed a ball into the left field stands in the fourth inning. Three innings later, they added to their lead thanks to two errors on the same play – Nakano bobbled a grounder, which got past him, and Morishita overran it, allowing Mune to score all the way from first base. Tajima was practically flawless through seven innings, but the manager called on the bullpen to close out the game. He surely regrets that decision, as the Tigers collected six hits and a walk, and also benefited from a Buffaloes error, putting up a six-spot in what would be their final at-bats of the game.
Final Score: Tigers 6, Buffaloes 2
Game 6: Shoki Murakami vs. Yoshinobu Yamamoto
The Tigers opened the scoring with their first home run of the series (and their first in a Japan Series since 2003!) in the second inning as outfielder Sheldon Neuse went yard. That lead was short-lived as Wakatsuki tied it in the bottom of the inning and Keita Nakagawa pushed the go-ahead run home on a sacrifice fly. From there, the story of the game was Yamamoto. The Sawamura Award winner fanned a Japan Series-record 14 batters en route to a complete game. The bats gave him insurance runs in the fifth (2) and eighth (1), thanks to home runs from Kurebayashi and Tongu respectively. This series is going the distance!
Final Score: Buffaloes 5, Tigers 1
Game 7: Koyo Aoyagi vs. Hiroya Miyagi
Both pitchers held fort for three innings, and then the floodgates broke wide open for the Tigers. Neuse connected for a home run in his second straight game, this one a three-run job. The next inning, the Tigers hit five singles (with just one out interrupting the stretch) on their way to another three-spot. Miyagi’s night ended partway through that rally, but veteran Motoki Higa was unable to put out the fire that had started. The Tigers brought in Itoh (who was the loser in Game 3) to bridge the gap between Aoyagi and the closer, and he rewarded their trust with three shutout innings. Morishita knocked in his seventh run of the series in the ninth to make it a 7-run gap. Nevertheless, closer Suguru Iwazaki came in to end the game, and aside from a first-pitch solo home run, he got the job done. Series over. Koji Chikamoto wins Japan Series MVP thanks to his 14-29 (.483) line.
Final Score: Tigers 7, Buffaloes 1
And so our 2023 NPB season has come to an end. Congratulations to the Hanshin Tigers organization and their passionate fans. Immediately following the game, a few fans snuck past security and jumped into the Dotombori Canal, which is the scene of the infamous Colonel Sanders statue being launched into the murky waters. One man, in fact, dressed as the Colonel and allowed the crowd to toss him into the water. You know, if the Tigers wait another 38 years to win it all again, this could be the explanation we live with for the upcoming four decades! Outside of that, there were announcements about players becoming free agents, being posted (Yamamoto), being traded… but we will save that for our next newsletter in two weeks’ time! The long offseason is upon us, JapanBallers…