Osaka – Orix Buffaloes manager Satoshi Nakajima is not usually a man of many words during postgame interviews and that was a good thing after Game 1 of the Japan Series.
Because it might have been hard to find the right words to describe what he had just seen.
Masataka Yoshida hit a sayonara double into center and the Orix Buffaloes pulled the rug out from under the Tokyo Yakult Swallows with a three-run, ninth-inning rally to win Game 1 of the Japan Series 4-3 at Kyocera Dome on Saturday night.
“That was amazing,” Nakajima said in a calm tone after the game.
The Buffaloes lead the series 1-0.
Game 2 is Sunday night. Despite not having to name a starter — the teams do not have to name probable starters in the Japan Series for the first time since 2017 since the managers did not both agree to do so — Nakajima did so anyway, just like he did prior to Game 1.
“It’s (Hiroya) Miyagi,” he said.
The Swallows entered the ninth in the driver’s seat on Saturday after taking the lead on a tiebreaking, two-run home run by Munetaka Murakami in the eighth.
Kotaro Kurebayashi led off the bottom of the ninth for the Buffaloes with a single to right off Yakult closer Scott McGough. Adam Jones went to the plate as a pinch hitter and drew a walk to put runners on first and second.
“I think he saw the ball really well,” Buffaloes manager Nakajima said of Jones’ at-bat. “That was a really big walk.”
Shuhei Fukuda laid down a bunt to move the runners over, but McGough’s failed attempt to throw out the lead runner at third left the bases loaded. Yuma Mune lined a 1-2 splitter back up the middle to tie the score and Yoshida, who was 0-for-4 at that point, won it with his double to center.
“Mune put a charge into the stadium,” Yoshida said. “That force pushed me and gave me a chance.”
Mune said went into his at-bat confident someone would get the job done even if he didn’t.
“I knew I had Masataka and Raoh (Yutaro Sugimoto) behind me,” Mune said. “So even a strikeout would be OK.”
The Buffaloes’ victory extends the Pacific League’s winning streak in Japan Series games to 13. The last CL squad to record a Japan Series win was the Hiroshima Carp in Game 2 in 2018. The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks won the next four games to win the title that year and then swept the Yomiuri Giants in 2019 and 2020.
The streak survived a close call on Saturday.
“We didn’t give up,” Nakajima said. “Even Jones, by drawing that walk. None of the players gave up and that led to the win,”
Both teams in this year’s Series understood runs might be hard to come by in the opener, and that was case for most of the night with Orix ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who led NPB in nearly all the major categories this season, holding down the Swallows, and second-year Yakult right-hander Yasunobu Okugawa slicing through the Buffaloes lineup.
Okugawa allowed one run, scattered six hits, struck out three and walked two. It was a solid followup to his postseason debut 10 days ago, when he threw a 98-pitch shutout against the Giants in Game 1 of the Central League Climax Final Stage.
Yamamoto struck out nine and allowed one run over six frames.
Neither factored in the decision. Motoki Higa, who worked the top of the ninth, earned the win in relief and McGough took the loss.
Swallows catcher Yuhei Nakamura drove in the first run of the game with an RBI single in the sixth and Orix’s Steven Moya tied the score with a deep shot to right-center in the seventh.
The Buffaloes will try to strengthen their grip on the series in Game 2, while the Swallows will be trying to tie it up.
“We want to fight hard one game at a time,” Nakajima said. “I got the impression that our opponents are really strong.”
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