Domingo Santana hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning as the Yakult Swallows rallied to defeat the Orix Buffaloes 5-4 and take a two-games-to-one lead in the Japan Series on Tuesday, November 23.
In a seesaw game in which the lead changed three times, the Central League champion Swallows relied on clutch hitting and a solid pitching effort from their bullpen to nail down the win.
“Santana really came through for us,” Yakult manager Shingo Takatsu said. “This game was quite different from the first two when our starters went deep so we had to rely on everyone to get the job done.”
Santana hit 19 homers for the Swallows in the regular season. A native of the Dominican Republic, Santana spent seven years in the major leagues with the Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians.
Orix took a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh when Masataka Yoshida hit an opposite field double that scored the runner from second.
But the lead didn’t last long.
With Norichika Aoki on first and two out, Santana’s blast off Orix reliever Ryo Yoshida, who took the loss, cleared the wall in right field and brought out a sea of umbrellas at Tokyo Dome.
The Yakult faithful make it a tradition to celebrate runs by raising umbrellas at Jingu Stadium. While there is no need for umbrellas inside Tokyo Dome, that didn’t stop the fans from sticking with the tradition.
The Swallows are playing their home games in the series at Tokyo Dome, the home park of the crosstown rival Yomiuri Giants, because of a scheduling conflict but Takatsu’s team looked right at home.
“It was great that so many Yakult fans could come and watch,” Takatsu said of the 24,565 mostly Yakult fans in attendance.
The Buffaloes took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third on a one-out bases-loaded single to right by Yuma Mune.
Swallows starter Yasuhiro Ogawa did a good job of limiting the damage, striking out Yoshida and retiring Yutaro Sugimoto on a foul fly.
The Swallows came back in the bottom of the fifth.
Aoki led off with a single that knocked Orix starter Daiki Tajima out of the game.
Reliever Hiroki Higa came on and retired Tetsuto Yamada before being replaced by Cesar Vargas, who promptly loaded the bases.
Yuhei Nakamura then drove in two runs with a single to center and another run scored on a throwing error by Mune to make it 3-1 Yakult.
The Buffaloes tied it up in the top of the sixth. Yoshida led off with a double and Sugimoto connected for a two-run homer to right off Yakult starter Ogawa.
Yakult reliever Taichi Ishiyama picked up the win after coming on in the seventh and holding the Buffaloes scoreless over 1-1/3 innings.
Scott McGough earned the save after retiring the side in the ninth but there were some tense moments.
McGough gave up a leadoff single to Kenya Wakatsuki. Shuhei Fukuda then laid down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Wakatsuki to second. Wakatsuki then advanced to third on a ground out by Mune.
Takatsu elected to intentionally walk Yoshida, bringing up Sugimoto, the Pacific League home run leader who grounded out to first to end the game.
Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for more than 25 years. You can find his articles here, on JAPAN Forward.