Buffaloes win 1st Japan Series since 1996

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Orix manager Satoshi Nakajima gets the ceremonial victory toss after the Buffaloes won the Japan Series on Sunday night at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.

The last time the Orix Buffaloes won a Japan Series, they were known as the BlueWave, they played in Kobe and Osaka Dome was still being built, and they were led by a skinny hit-machine who liked to be referred to by his first name.

Orix ended a 26-year championship drought when it defeated the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 5-4 on Sunday night at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, giving the Buffaloes a 4-2 win in the series that went seven games with one tie.

A three-run fielding error in the fifth inning helped stake the Buffaloes to a 5-0 lead, and they held on after the Swallows struck for four runs in the eighth inning to win the final four games in a row and avenge a loss in a match-up between the same teams in last year’s Japan Series.

It was the fifth title overall for the Orix franchise — including three as the Hankyu Braves in the 1970s — and first since 1996 behind outfielder Ichiro Suzuki before he left Japan for stardom in the major leagues.

Left-hander Hiroya Miyagi, pitching on four days rest, stepped up and held the Swallows to three hits over five scoreless innings, striking out five and walking one to earn the win. Jacob Waguespack retired the side in order in the ninth to earn his third save of the series.

“I thought it would be tough, but he pitched great for us,” Orix manager Satoshi Nakajima said. “Yakult is really a scary team and very strong. We were able to reach this point through the support of so many.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Series MVP Yutaro Sugimoto of Orix delivers a fly ball in the fifth inning that was misplayed for a three-run error.

Yutaro Sugimoto, who hit the bases-loaded fly that was misplayed into three runs in the fifth, was named the series MVP. He had the winning hit in the 1-0 victory in Game 4 and a go-ahead RBI in the 3-0 win in Game 6.

“I was surprised, like, am I really getting this,” said Sugimoto, last year’s PL home run leader who struggled at times during the season. “I still have a lot of things to work out. I’m going to work hard to help us win a third straight league title and become No. 1 in Japan again.”

Ryo Ota got the Orix party started before the crowd of 29,381 with the 14th home run to lead off a Japan Series game when he homered on the first pitch from Yakult starter Cy Sneed.

That would be all of the scoring until the fifth. A bases-loaded walk gave the Buffaloes another run, then Sugimoto lined a catchable shot to left center that went past the glove of a running center fielder Yasutaka Shiomi, allowing the ball to get to the wall and clearing the bases. “This will be a Japan Series filled with regrets,” said Shiomi, who was charged with an error.

Just when it appeared that all was lost for the home team, the Swallows came alive in the eighth inning behind star Munetaka Murakami, the batting Triple Crown winner who had been relatively quiet during the series and had struck out looking in two previous at-bats Sunday.

With one out and runners on first and second, Murakami singled to right off reliever Soichiro Yamazaki to put the Swallows on the scoreboard. Jose Ozuna followed by blasting a home run into the left field seats to make it a one-run game.

But Waguespack had no trouble in closing the door on the Swallows in becoming the seventh pitcher in Japan Series history with three saves. He also got the 71st and last strikeout by the Swallows, a record for a seven-game series.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Orix players rush to the mound after closer Jacob Waguespack, 2nd from right, set down Yakult in order in the ninth inning.

“It’s tough to take,” said a tearful Yakult manager Shingo Takatsu. “Orix was the same opponent [when we won last year], so I suppose this is how they felt. But I will make sure never to forget this feeling of disappointment.”

Murakami, who hit 56 home runs during the season, was limited to a solo shot in Game 1 and had just five hits in 26 at-bats in the series. He also had his problems in the field at third base — two sacrifice bunts that came his way ended up becoming hits in Orix’s fifth-inning rally on Sunday.