Different year, similar storyline. But this time, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows didn't emerge victorious on the night it happened.
For the second straight autumn, veteran left-hander Masanori Ishikawa was penciled in as the Game 4 starter for the Swallows against the Orix Buffaloes in the Japan Series. Both times, Ishikawa's pitching counterpart was considerably younger.
The 42-year-old Ishikawa, who made his debut with the Swallows in 2002 and has played for the Central League club for his entire career, went to work on Wednesday, October 26 at Kyocera Dome in Osaka with a chance to help put Yakult on the brink of back-to-back Japan Series titles.
But the Buffaloes had other plans. Starter Taisuke Yamaoka, who is 27, and three relievers combined for a six-hit shutout in a 1-0 win over the Swallows, cutting the reigning champions' lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1. Game 2 ended in a 3-3 tie.
It was the first Japan Series game to end 1-0 since Game 5 in 2014, when the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks topped the visiting Hanshin Tigers.
Orix only had three hits, but it proved to be enough to win.
Decisive Moment in the Game
The Buffaloes broke the scoreless stalemate in the third. Yutaro Sugimoto's two-out single to left brought Keita Nakagawa home for the game's only run.
After the game, Buffaloes manager Satoshi Nakajima breathed a sigh of relief. Then he addressed the team's fans: "[Today] was an electrifying game, but let's somehow manage to score runs tomorrow."
Looking back on the combined effort of Orix's relief pitchers, Nakajima paid tribute to Soichiro Yamazaki, Yuki Udagawa and Jacob Waguespack.
"There are a lot of great hitters in the Yakult batting lineup, so I felt that one walk would be fatal, but I'm really grateful that they [the Swallows] managed to come back with zero [runs]," the skipper was quoted as saying by Nikkan Sports.
In the 2021 Japan Series, Ishikawa was the starting pitcher in Game 4 on November 24. Opposing Orix's Yamazaki, then 23, he held the Buffaloes to three hits in six scoreless innings and fanned five batters in Yakult's 2-1 victory. It was the Swallows' third straight victory in the series, which they went on to win in six games. When Ishikawa departed the game, the Swallows led 1-0.
This time, Ishikawa left the game trailing 1-0.
Pitchers Keep Offenses in Check
Both teams had scoring chances in the first inning.
Yakult leadoff hitter Yasutaka Shiomi, who was moved to the No. 3 spot in lineup in Game 3, returned to his customary batting position and slapped a single to center to open the game. With two outs, the Swallows had runners at second and third before Jose Osuna grounded out to end the scoring threat.
The Buffaloes loaded the bases in the home half of the first, but Sugimoto struck out, stranding three runners.
With runners on first and second and two outs in the third, Swallows slugger Munetaka Murakami, who bashed 56 home runs this year and won the Central League's Triple Crown, whiffed on a nasty slider from Yamaoka.
Through five innings, the Swallows had five hits but no runs to show for it. The Buffaloes had only a pair of hits but maintained their slim lead.
Udagawa Stays Poised Against Swallows
To open the sixth inning, Murakami faced Udagawa, who replaced Yamaoka with one out in the previous inning after Shiomi's one-out triple. Murakami patiently worked the count to 3-2, then walked on a 157 kph (97.5 mph) heater low and outside. Two batters later, former MLB player Norichika Aoki walked.
Udagawa, a 23-year-old rookie who appeared in 19 games in the regular season, worked out of the jam without yielding a run. He slammed the door on the Yakult rally by fanning Domingo Santana on a textbook forkball.
Yamaoka made 70 pitches before leaving the game. He scattered five hits and struck out two. Udagawa worked 1⅔ scoreless innings, striking out four and allowing no hits, before being replaced by Yamazaki in the seventh. Udagawa earned the win.
Ishikawa departed after tossing 88 pitches in five innings. He struck out four and yielded the aforementioned two hits. Rookie Naofumi Kizawa, 24, worked the next two innings, including a 1-2-3 sixth, and didn't let the Buffaloes extend their lead. Teammate Ryuta Konno took over the pitching duties in the eighth.
The Buffaloes had a chance to give themselves a bit of breathing room in the eighth. After Orix loaded the bases on a trio of walks, Kenya Wakatsuki stepped into the batter's box with two outs. He struck out on a 1-2 fastball from Konno to end the inning, sending the Swallows down to their final three outs.
Buffaloes' Waguespack Preserves the Win
Reliever Waguespack, who had five saves in the regular season and a 2-6 record in 32 games, gave up a leadoff double to Kazuya Maruyama in the ninth. Then the 28-year-old former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher struck out Santana. Pinch hitter Takeshi Miyamoto was also sent back to the dugout as a strikeout victim.
Down to their final out, Souma Uchiyama, who slugged a three-run, pinch-hit home run in the ninth in Game 2, which ended in a 3-3 tie after 12 innings on Sunday, hit a high pop fly behind home plate. Buffaloes catcher Wakatsuki made the catch to end the game, much to the delight of the majority of the 33,210 spectators in Osaka.
Waguespack earned the save and the Buffaloes made sure that NPB's championship series would be extended beyond Thursday's Game 5 at Kyocera Dome. A pair of left-handers, Orix's Daiki Tajima and Yakult's Hikaru Yamashita, are the starting pitchers.
"We worked walks and had runners on base but couldn't get that one big hit," Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu said, according to Kyodo News. "It's not an easy thing to accomplish, but somewhere along the line, you have to get at least one."
Game 6 will be held at Tokyo's Jingu Stadium on Saturday night.
- Tetsuto Yamada Ends Slump And Leads Yakult Past Orix In Game 3 Of Japan Series
- Swallows, Buffaloes Play To A 3-3 Tie In Game 2 Of Japan Series
- Osuna, Shiomi Lead Yakult To Win Over Orix In Game 1 Of Japan Series
- [NPB NOTEBOOK] Swallows And Buffaloes Set For Sequel To 2021 Japan Series
Author: Ed Odeven