Swallows claim 1st championship in 20 years

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tokyo Yakult Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu is given the traditional celebratory toss in Kobe on Saturday.

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows, the Central League champions, defeated the Orix Buffaloes, winners of the Pacific League, 2-1 in 12 innings on Saturday at Hotto Motto Field Kobe in Kobe to earn their sixth Japan Series title, first in 20 years.

The Swallows won the best-of-seven series 4-2 to become the first Nippon Professional Baseball winner from the CL since the Yomiuri Giants won it all in 2012.

This was the first time in history that two last-place teams the previous year played each other in the Series, and it was the first time since 1960 — when the Yokohama Taiyo Whales, the former name of the Yokohama DeNA BayStars — a team went from worst to the top spot.

Orix came up short in its bid to finish atop Japan for the first time in 25 years.

Yakult prevailed in the first extra-inning game of the Series, a fierce battle in which both teams battled hard, showing a strong desire to win.

Yakult manager Shingo Takatsu said he believed in his players.

“I can feel [the will to win] on their side, but we had something that was beyond that.”

This was evident in the way his players performed.

Takatsu had continuously talked about how the team could get a run and play defense. And right after Yakult took a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning, Orix pulled even.

The Swallows weren’t able to manage another run, but the relief pitchers stood tall.

Noboru Shimizu and Scott McGough pitched multiple innings and were able to get the job done by keeping the Buffaloes off the scoreboard.

Yasutaka Shiomi reached base with two outs in the 12th inning. After advancing to second base on a passed ball, Shingo Kawabata pinch-hit and sent a ball toward left that dropped in front of the outfielder.

As a former closer who routinely pitched in close games, Takatsu knows the importance of one score run, and he expressed to his players the weight of each swing, each pitch and each play.

Last season, the difference between ideal situations and reality frustrated him, but the past two years prove that his approach has gotten through to his players.

And while the weather wasn’t ideal in Kobe, the victory warmed the heart of the Yakult manager. “It was cold, but everyone stood tall on the field with passion and enthusiasm,” he said.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” was his final message to the players and the fans who have supported the team.