For the first time in NPB history, both leagues were won by teams that finished in last place the previous year. Also for the first time in NPB history (I think), both teams celebrated their pennants from their dugouts, in uniform, while watching their nearest foes lose on TV.
The Yakult Swallows had a magic number of two on Tuesday night. They were visiting the last-place Yokohama DeNA Baystars and did what they needed to do by winning 5-1. However, they needed to await the result of the Hanshin Tigers game at Koshien against the Chunichi Dragons. A Tigers win would mean a magic number of one, while a loss would give them the pennant. They only had to wait 30 minutes or so for the 54th out of that game, and thanks to a Dragons 4-0 victory, the Swallows won the Central that night. It was their first pennant in six seasons. They finished the 2021 season tonight with a loss, bringing their final record to 73-52-18 (.584).
Meanwhile in the Pacific League, the Orix Buffaloes (70-55-18 = .560) had already played their final game of the season and needed for the Chiba Lotte Marines to lose just one of their remaining three. The Buffaloes players, with no game to play, sat in their dugout at Kyocera Dome Osaka and watched the Marines’ game from a distance. When the Rakuten Eagles closed out their game in a 2-1 victory, the Buffaloes clinched. It was their first pennant since 1996, when they were still known as the Orix BlueWave.
So what is next? Well, the playoffs are slated to begin this coming weekend. The Central League matchup features the Tigers (77-56-10 = .579) hosting the third-place Yomiuri Giants (61-62-20 = .496) for a best-of-three at Koshien Stadium. The Pacific League sees the Marines (67-57-19 = .540) looking to avenge that Wednesday loss against the Eagles (66-62-15 = .516) when they host them for a best-of-three at Zozo Marine Stadium. Both series will play their games Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm, and then Monday at 6:00 pm if necessary.
Perhaps the biggest news aside from the pennants was the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters hiring former outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo (2001, 2003 NY Mets, 2002 SF Giants) as manager. The flamboyant, unconventional Shinjo took to Twitter immediately and proposed the occasional fan vote-in starting lineup for next season. Let the adventures begin! They also named Samurai Japan skipper Atsunori Inaba new team GM.
By the time we report to you next, we will be down to the final four teams standing. Catch you in seven days!