Game 1 of the Japan Series lived up to the hype as a dynamic duel between top-notch starting pitchers in the early going.
The latter stages of the game, however, turned into a hitter’s delight, with Orix Buffaloes star Masataka Yoshida delivering the signature moment in the final at-bat of the game.
Yoshida stroked a sayonara double to center field as the Buffaloes rallied from a two-run deficit to beat the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 4-3 at Kyocera Dome in Osaka on Saturday night, November 20.
Teammates stormed out of the dugout and jumped for joy, high-fiving Yoshida and celebrating together.
Summing up the thrill of the moment and the comeback victory, Yoshida told reporters that his team’s competitive spirit paid off.
"The battle of not giving up until the end was completed in the first game,” Yoshida was quoted as saying by The Sankei Shimbun.
Yoshida, who was sidelined for three weeks due to a wrist injury late in the season, said he was numb after the game-ending play.
"It was really good to [return and play in] the Climax Series and the Japan Series,” he said.
Before Yoshida’s dramatic at-bat, teammate Yuma Mune stepped into the batter’s box with the bases loaded and no outs against Swallows reliever Scott McGough, who saved 31 games in the regular season.
Mune knocked a bouncing single up the middle and two runs scored on the play to tie it at 3-3.
McGough, the third Swallows pitcher who took over in the ninth, failed to record an out in the inning. His rough outing began by yielding a leadoff single to Kotaro Kurebayashi. Pinch hitter Adam Jones walked and on Shuhei Fukuda’s bunt attempt, McGough’s throw to third base on a force-out attempt did not beat the runner, thus the bases were loaded.
McGough took the loss.
Motoki Higa, the Buffaloes’ fourth pitcher on the night, worked one inning and picked up the win.
Game 2 is on Sunday, November 21, starting at 6:05 p.m.
Buffaloes hurler Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who led NPB with 18 games in the regular season, and rising Swallows star Yasunobu Okugawa were in control from the get-go.
Neither team scored over the first five innings, then both offenses changed the narrative with timely hits and power-hitting displays.
Yakult’s Munetaka Murakami, who tied Kazuma Okamoto of the Yomiuri Giants for the Central League lead in home runs (39) in the regular season, connected on a two-run blast off Orix reliever Tyler Higgins in the eighth to give the Swallows a 3-1 advantage.
Yamamoto worked his way out of a one-out jam in the top of the third inning unscathed. The Swallows had runners at first and second, but the hard-throwing right-hander struck out the next two Yakult batters, Tetsuto Yamada and Murakami, to end the threat.
In the fifth, with two men on base and two outs, Buffaloes No. 3 hitter Yoshida, the Pacific League’s 2021 batting champion (.339 average), got a good swing off an Okugawa offering, but he flew out to Swallows center fielder Yasutaka Shiomi at the base of the wall.
But Yoshida capitalized on another big scoring chance late in the game.
Yakult’s Yuhei Nakamura drove in the game’s first run in the sixth inning, lining a Yamamoto forkball into center field to score Yamada, who had reached on a leadoff walk.
Yamamoto avoided further damage by getting Jose Osuna to ground into a double play to finish off the Swallows in the sixth.
Orix reliever Ryo Yoshida replaced Yamamoto at the start of the seventh inning.
Yamamoto allowed five hits and a run in six frames. He struck out nine and walked two.
Okugawa worked seven innings and scattered six hits. He allowed one run and struck out three.
Buffaloes outfielder Steven Moya, who belted 13 homers in the regular season, crushed a game-tying homer with one out in the seventh inning. The Kyocera Dome crowd came alive with boisterous cheering after the Puerto Rican-born Moya’s clout.
The Swallows are making their first Japan Series appearance since 2015. The Buffaloes advanced to the Japanese Fall Classic for the first time since 1996.
Author: Ed Odeven