Yakult grabs back-to-back Central League titles

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tokyo Yakult Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu is given a victory toss after the team clinched the Central League championship at Jingu Stadium in Tokyo on Sunday.

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows clinched back-to-back Central League titles with a 1-0 victory over the second-place Yokohama DeNA Baystars at Jingu Stadium in Tokyo on Sunday night.

Last year’s Japan Series champions, the Swallows will finish the regular season atop the league for the ninth time in franchise history. The team also won consecutive CL titles in 1992 and 1993.

Yakult cleanup hitter Munetaka Murakami has been the driving force for the team’s success. The third baseman has so far hit 55 home runs to match the mark for a Japan-born player set in 1964 by the legendary Sadaharu Oh of the Yomiuri Giants. Former Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien has the all-time mark of 60 home runs in a single season, set in 2013.

While Yakult struggled with the absence of some key players due to coronavirus infections, the team has remained in first place since May.

“I felt the them get better game after game, year after year,” said Swallows skipper Shingo Takatsu, who has been the manager since the 2020 season.

The Baystars secured second place on Sunday night. The other four teams in the Central League all have a chance to finish third and earn a place in the Climax Series of the playoffs.

On Sunday night, Yakult pitcher Yasuhiro Ogawa had a strong start, going six innings, and three relievers kept the Baystars scoreless.

In the bottom of the ninth, Swallows rookie outfielder Kazuya Maruyama drove in pinch-runner Yasutaka Shiomi from second for the winning run with a double to center off Yokohama reliver Edwin Escobar.