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Yoshinobu Yamamoto Shines as Orix Tops Hanshin and Forces a Decisive Game 7 in Japan Series

The Buffaloes ace set a Japan Series record for strikeouts (14) in what was likely his last game as a Nippon Professional Baseball pitcher.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto set a Japan Series record with 14 strikeouts over the distance on Saturday, November 4 as the Orix Buffaloes beat the Hanshin Tigers 5-1 to force a decisive Game 7 in the all-Kansai series.

In a rematch of Game 1, Yamamoto once again faced Hanshin rookie Shoki Murakami in a must-win game for the defending champion Buffaloes.

Murakami won the first showdown. Hanshin's hitters battered Yamamoto for seven runs over five-plus innings en route to an 8-0 victory on Saturday, October 28.

Pitching in what likely will be his last game for Orix, Yamamoto, who is believed to be headed to a Major League Baseball team next season, was determined to get revenge before a sold-out crowd of 33,633 at Kyocera Dome.

Yamamoto's reputation among major league scouts was also on the line after two rough starts in the postseason. He also gave up five runs on 10 hits in seven innings against the Chiba Lotte Marines in the second stage of the Pacific League Climax Series on October 18.

But after a shaky start, the three-time Sawamura Award winner settled down. And he earned his first Japan Series victory in three trips to the championship.

Japan Series
Yoshinobu Yamamoto tips his cap to the sold-out crowd after Game 6. (ⒸSANKEI)

Yamamoto Grateful for Fans' Support

"Thanks to all the support of the fans, I was able to go all the way," Yamamoto said. "I'm sorry I caused a lot of worry after the first game."

Using an effective combination of fastballs, curves and forkballs, Yamamoto, a 16-game winner in the regular season, scattered nine hits over the distance. He issued no walks in a 138-pitch outing.

Yamamoto also broke the Japan Series record of 13 strikeouts in a single game shared by the Fighters' Yu Darvish (Game 1 in 2007) and the Hawks' Kimiyasu Kudo (Game 1 in 1999).

Japan Series
Hanshin's Sheldon Neuse hits a solo home run in the second inning. (ⒸSANKEI)

Tigers Grab a Short-Lived Lead

Hanshin, looking for its first title in 38 years, took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Sheldon Neuse connected for an opposite-field solo homer that just cleared the wall in right field.

Orix came right back in the bottom of the inning.

Marwin Gonzalez led off with a single to center and Yutaro Sugimoto followed with a towering fly ball that got caught in one of the rings that circle the roof of Kyocera Dome. 

Sugimoto was awarded a ground-rule double. It was the second time this series that has happened to an Orix batter.

Kenya Wakatsuki followed with a single to right that scored Gonzalez from third to tie the game.

Japan Series
Orix's Kenya Wakatsuki delivers a game-tying single to right in the second inning. (ⒸSANKEI)

With runners at first and third, Keita Nakagawa hit a sacrifice fly to left field that gave Orix a 2-1 lead.

"I gave up the first run but after we got the lead back I was able to settle down," Yamamoto said. "Wakatsuki called a great game behind the plate. I wasn't thinking about the record. I was just trying to focus on each batter."

Japan Series
Orix's Kotaro Kurebayashi is congratulated by teammates after belting a two-run homer in the fifth inning. (ⒸSANKEI)

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Buffaloes Extend the Lead to 4-1

Orix widened its lead in the top of the fifth.

Nakagawa led off with a single and advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Yuma Mune. 

That brought the red-hot Kotaro Kurebayashi to the plate. Batting third in the order for the first time in the series, he drilled a Murakami pitch over the left-field fence for a two-run homer and a 4-1 lead.

"I knew there were good batters coming after me so I just wanted to keep the hits going," Kurebayashi said.

Kurebyashi added, "I was able to get a good pitch to hit and was happy to see it go out."

Japan Series
Buffaloes right fielder Tomoya Mori's catch ended the Tigers' scoring threat in the fourth inning. (ⒸSANKEI)

A Big Defensive Play

Yamamoto pitched in, and out, of jams early on. In the fourth, Kento Itohara and Seiya Kinami had back-to-back singles with one out. 

Yamamoto then struck out Seishiro Sakamoto before Koji Chikamoto hit a deep fly that Orix right fielder Tomoya Mori snared off the wall with a fine leaping catch for the third out.

Hanshin manager Akinobu Okada thought the ball might have hit the wall before Mori caught it and asked for a video replay, which confirmed the original call that it was an out.

Japan Series
Buffaloes starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto in action in Game 6 of the Japan Series. (ⒸSANKEI)

Japan Series Drama: Yamamoto Rises to the Occasion

With a 4-1 lead, Yamamoto settled down and didn't give up another hit until the seventh.

After getting two out, Yamamoto gave up back-to-back singles to Chikamoto and Takumu Nakano in the seventh. Then he got Shota Morishita on an infield fly to end the inning.

Yuma Tongu hit a solo homer to lead off the bottom of the eighth to make it 5-1 and make a Yamamoto complete game more likely.

In the ninth, Yamamoto struck out Itohara, gave up a single to Kinami, struck out pinch hitter Ryo Watanabe for the record and then got Chikamoto to ground out to second.

Japan Series
Tigers starter Shoki Murakami (ⒸSANKEI)

Murakami, who took the loss, gave up four runs on six hits over five innings before being replaced by Yuki Nishi.

Game 7 is on Sunday at Kyocera Dome. First pitch is set for 6:30 PM.

Orix's Hiroya Miyagi (10-4, 2.27 ERA in the regular season and Hanshin's Koyo Aoyagi (8-6, 4.57 ERA) are the starting pitchers.

"It's been a great series so far," Orix manager Satoshi Nakajima said. "I know our fans will show up tomorrow with their throat lozenges and cheer as loud as they possibly can."

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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.

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