Swallows Rally Past Tigers in Seventh Inning, Advance to Japan Series
Yakult outscored Hanshin 18-7 in three Central League Climax Series Final Stage games, completing a series sweep in dramatic fashion.
The Tokyo Yakult Swallows have advanced to the Japan Series in back-to-back years for the first time since 1993.
The Central League pennant-winning Swallows staged a dramatic late comeback against the Hanshin Tigers on Friday night, October 14 at Jingu Stadium.
Trailing 3-0 after six innings in Game 3 of the Central League Climax Series Final Stage, Yakult erased Hanshin's lead with a five-run rally in the seventh inning. And Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu's club completed its quest to return to the Japan Series with a 6-3 win.
Under NPB's quirky playoff rules, the regular-season winners of the Central and Pacific Leagues receive an automatic 1-0 advantage for the Final Stage. In addition, the top seed only needs three wins and a tie to advance.
The Swallows added an insurance run in the eighth inning before slamming the door on the Tigers' championship hopes in the ninth.
Reliever Kazuto Taguchi, who pitched a scoreless seventh inning, earned the win. Noboru Shimizu, Yakult's fourth pitcher on the night, preserved the lead without yielding a run. Closer Scott McGough then worked the ninth, earning the series-clinching save before an announced crowd of 29,343.
The Tigers' Fumihito Haraguchi struck out to end the game.
"As the CL champions we felt a great responsibility to win this series and go on to the Japan Series where we will do our best to win the championship back to back," Takatsu said after the game.
In the pivotal seventh inning, the Swallows sent nine batters to the plate. With two outs, Triple Crown winner Munetaka Murakami hit a slow-rolling grounder up the first-base line. Tigers reliever Masumi Hamachi fielded the ball, and as Murakami sprinted down the line, the pitcher made a wild glove toss, instead of a regular throw, over the head of first baseman Teruaki Sato. Three Swallows scored on the play, giving Yakult a 5-3 lead.
"We didn't have a lot of chances, didn't put together a lot of hits up until that point and then Murakami came up with that 'great' hit for us at the right time," Takatsu said. "He really came through for us and it was nice batting."
Road to the Japan Series
The Swallows opened the series with a 7-1 victory on Wednesday. A 5-3 win on Thursday, featuring two-run home runs by Murakami and Jose Osuna in the third and fifth innings, respectively, put Yakult on the brink of returning to the Japan Series again.
Games 1 of the Japan Series will be played at Jingu Stadium on October 22. The Swallows will face the winner of the Orix Buffaloes-Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks showdown in the PL Climax Series Final Stage.
The Hawks staved off elimination with a 3-0 win over the Buffaloes, last year's Japan Series runners-up, in Game 3 on Friday. As the pennant winner, Orix began the series with an automatic one-win advantage.
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Author: Ed Odeven
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