Swallows southpaw Takahashi shines again in Japan Series

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yakult starter Keiji Takahashi fires a pitch during Game 3 of the Japan Series on Tuesday night in Osaka.

OSAKA — One year later in the same stadium, against the same opponent, left-hander Keiji Takahashi turned in nearly the same clutch performance on the biggest stage in Japan pro baseball.

Takahashi allowed three hits over six scoreless innings of a 7-1 victory as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows defeated the Orix Buffaloes on Tuesday night in Game 3 of the Japan Series at Kyocera Dome Osaka to take a 2-0 lead. The second game ended in a 12-inning tie.

Tetsuto Yamada, hitless in nine at-bats entering the game, broke a scoreless tie with a three-run homer in the fifth inning off Orix starter Hiroya Miyagi, and batting Triple Crown-winner Munetaka Murakami drew a bases-loaded walk and had a two-run double as the Swallows moved halfway to repeating their Japan Series victory from last season over the Buffaloes.

Takahashi, who went 8-2 this season in 17 starts, used a good mix of power and finesse to overcome a wobbly start and shut down the Buffaloes, combining seven strikeouts with two walks.

Normally relying on a 150-kph fastball, Takahashi encountered control problems at the beginning and issued a bases on balls to leadoff hitter Shuhei Fukuda.

“I then put more emphasis on control than power,” said Takahashi, who from there, made sure to throw strikes early in at-bats and had a no-hitter going after three innings.

When Orix finally managed to get runners on base, Takahashi showed his ability to hold down the opponent and keep it from mounting a sustained rally.

His first jam came in the fourth inning, when a pair of hits put runners on second and third with one out. That only caused him to change gears and take his game up a notch.

Takahashi went right at the next two hitters, and got both Keita Nakagawa and Yutaro Sugimoto swinging at high fastballs for third strikes to end the threat.

“In that jam, I was able to have some variation in my pitches,” said Takahashi, who threw 90 pitches.

Last year, Takahashi held the Buffaloes to five hits in a 2-0 shutout in Game 2, and the Swallows went on to take the series in six games.

“He’s really come along in his pitching itself,” said Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu, “but his mental control has also gotten better.”

What had developed into a pitcher’s duel was broken up by the player struggling the most in the series.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yakult’s Tetsuto Yamada blasts a three-run homer in the fifth inning.

Yamada struck out four times in Game 1, then went 0-for-5 and hit into a double play in the second game. Still, having seen what the 12-year veteran can do, Takatsu took a chance and moved Yamada to the leadoff spot in the lineup — where he had not hit in three years.

“I thought we have to somehow create some chances,” Takatsu said. “I decided [on the lineup] when I woke up this morning.”

Yamada woke up the crowd of 33,098 when he belted a two-out homer into the left-field stands to give the Swallows a 3-0 lead.

“He’s a player who accepts the weight of responsibility,” Takatsu said. “I think he was a bit concerned himself about not hitting. But I think this puts all that in the past.”