The Hanshin Tigers roughed up ace pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto to cruise to an 8-0 victory over the defending champion Orix Buffaloes on Saturday, October 28 in the first game of the all-Kansai Japan Series.
This best-of-seven Japan Series is the first one in 59 years to feature two teams from Kansai. The last time the Tigers won the championship was 1985 when current manager Akinobu Okada was a player.
"There was a lot of pressure but Murakami did a fine job and our hitters really came through for us," Okada said. "Everybody played a part and we'll try to keep this momentum going for the next game."
Widely regarded as the best pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball, Yamamoto was overpowering in the regular season, going 16-6 with 169 strikeouts and a minuscule 1.21 ERA.
The 25-year-old right-hander more or less coasted through the first four innings at Kyocera Dome, giving up just two hits and striking out five.
But the wheels came off in the fifth when the Central League champions tagged Yamamoto for four runs.
Tigers Take a Commanding Lead in the Fifth
Hanshin infielder Teruaki Sato led off the fifth with a single to center and stole second base. He advanced to third on a deep fly to right by Sheldon Neuse.
Designated hitter Ryo Watanabe then hit a fly ball to left-center that dropped in and scored Sato from third to make it 1-0.
Seiya Kinami followed with a single to put runners at first and second and Chikamoto connected for a bases-clearing triple to the gap in right-center to give Hanshin a 3-0 lead. The speedy Chikamoto had 12 triples during the regular season.
Nakano then hit an opposite field single to left, scoring Chikamoto.
By this point the "visiting" Hanshin fans made Kyocera Dome sound more like Koshien Stadium as the Orix fans looked on in stunned silence.
For all his success in the regular season, Yamamoto has yet to post a win in three trips to the Japan Series.
Batting Woes for Buffaloes in Japan Series Opener
Without last year's Japan Series MVP Yutaro Sugimoto in the lineup due to an injury, Orix batters struggled to generate offense. They didn't get their first hit until the fifth.
Tomoya Mori led off the fifth with a towering blast that hit the roof at Kyocera Dome and never came down. It would easily have been a home run at an outdoor stadium but it was ruled a ground-rule double.
Murakami then struck out Yuma Tongu and got Marwin Gonzalez out on a weak liner to second after the former major leaguer hit a foul ball that would have been a homer had it stayed fair. Kenya Wakatsuki grounded to third to end the inning.
Tigers Extend the Lead in the Sixth
Kinami, the MVP of Hanshin's sweep over Hiroshima in the second stage of the Climax Series, made it 5-0 with a single to left in the sixth. Seishiro Sakamoto increased the lead to 6-0 on a double down the left-field line that scored Neuse.
By this point, Orix manager Satoshi Nakajima had seen enough and he took Yamamoto out in favor of Nobuyoshi Yamada, who gave up a bases-loaded single to Nakano that scored a run, charged to Yamamoto, to make it 7-0.
The final line on Yamamoto was not pretty: seven runs on 10 hits with one walk and seven strikeouts over 5⅔ innings.
"It's very regrettable that I couldn't get the results after I was given this chance to pitch in the first game," Yamamoto said.
More worrisome for Yamamoto was that it was his second straight rough outing. He gave up five runs on 10 hits over seven innings in an 8-5 win over the Chiba Lotte Marines in the PL Climax Series' second stage.
His performances in the 2023 postseason will have major league scouts wondering what's wrong.
Stellar Outing for Murakami
In contrast to Yamamoto, Hanshin starter Murakami, who was 10-6 in the regular season, was dominant. The rookie right-hander struck out four and gave up just two hits and one walk in a 100-pitch effort over seven innings.
Sato drove in the eighth run for Hanshin with a bases-loaded single off Shota Abe in the ninth.
Game 2 is on Sunday. The starting pitchers are Hiroya Miyagi for Orix and Yuki Nishi for Hanshin.
Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.