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Orix Survives Late Scare to Defeat Yakult for First Japan Series Title in 26 Years

Buffaloes starter Hiroya Miyagi and outfielder Yutaro Sugimoto were the Game 7 heroes for the Pacific League champions.

The Orix Buffaloes defeated the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 5-4 in Game 7 on Sunday, October 30 to complete a stunning comeback against the defending champions and win their first Japan Series title in 26 years.

Down by two losses after the first three games (Game 2 ended in a 3-3 tie), the Pacific League champion Buffaloes won four straight games to avenge last year's 4-2 loss to the Swallows in the championship final. 

Orix starter Hiroya Miyagi went five strong innings and Yutaro Sugimoto hit a bases-clearing liner to center as the Buffaloes scored four runs in the top of the fifth to knock Yakult starter Cy Sneed out of the game.

Sugimoto Receives MVP Award

Sugimoto, who struggled early on in the series but came up with some clutch hits and big defensive plays during his team's four consecutive wins, was named series MVP.

"Yakult is such a strong team," Sugimoto told Kyodo News. "Losing last year left us with a bitter taste in our mouths. We were able to get back at them this time, though, and it feels good."

The Buffaloes didn't waste any time getting on the scoreboard before a near-capacity crowd at Tokyo's Jingu Stadium, home of the Central League champion Swallows.

Leadoff batter Ryo Ohta crushed the very first pitch of the game from Sneed for a solo homer to center that gave the Buffaloes an early 1-0 lead and seemed to set the tone.

"We really wanted to score first," Orix manager Satoshi Nakajima said. "Ohta doing that unbelievably on the first pitch was big for us. I put him in the lineup and batted him first because I wanted a guy who was going up there to swing the bat."

It could have been much worse for Yakult in the first frame. Sneed proceeded to load the bases but got Kotaro Kurebayashi out on a strikeout to end the inning.

Costly Fielding Miscue for Swallows

Sneed recovered nicely and looked to be in control until the fifth.

With runners on second and third and two out, Sneed walked Keita Nakagawa to load the bases. He then hit Masataka Yoshida with a pitch to force in the second run of the game.

Sugimoto then hit a sharp liner to center. Yakult center fielder Yasutaka Shiomi tracked the ball down but appeared to lose it in the lights and three runs scored when the ball got past him.

Shiomi was charged with an error on the play, meaning Sugimoto was not credited with the RBIs.

It's just a shoe!

Osuna Delivers Big Hit in Eighth

Jose Osuna made it tense for Orix with a three-run homer off reliever Soichiro Yamazaki in the eighth to cut the lead to 5-4 before Motoki Higa came in to strike out Yuhei Nakamura and get Domingo Santana on a comebacker to the mound.

Then it was all up to closer Jacob Waguespack, who got Hideki Nagaoka and Souma Uchiyama on fly outs before striking out Shiomi to seal the win.

Miyagi got the win after giving up no runs and allowing three hits while striking out five over five innings. Higa got the hold and Waguespack earned the save.

Waguespack, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays, earned the win in the Buffaloes' 6-4 Game 5 win and had three saves in the series.

Sneed, who struck out five but gave up five runs, two earned, on six hits over 4⅔ innings took the loss.

Orix Ends Long Title Drought

It was the fifth Japan Series championship for Orix and its first since 1996 when the club was known as the Orix BlueWave and led by Ichiro Suzuki.

Orix, known as the Hankyu Braves under previous ownership, won three straight championships from 1975-77.

The current franchise is a merger of the Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes after the 2004 season.

The team has a core of young stars like Yoshida and pitchers Miyagi and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, so the future looks bright.

Their defense and relief pitching were two elements that really came through in the seven-game Japan Series.

Middle relievers like Higa and Yuki Udagawa, who worked two scoreless innings on Sunday, came up big for Nakajima.


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.


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