Osaka – Japan’s league champions each won Game 1 of their Climax Series playoffs final stage series on Wednesday, with the Pacific League’s Orix Buffaloes beating the Chiba Lotte Marines 1-0 behind a four-hit shutout from Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and the Central League’s Tokyo Yakult Swallows downing the Yomiuri Giants 4-0 behind a six-hitter from rookie Yasunobu Okugawa.
Each league champ begins the best-of-seven final stage with a one-win advantage and now leads its series 2-0. The team with the most wins advances to the Japan Series, while the league champ will also advance if the series ends in a tie.
The 23-year-old Yamamoto, who won his fourth straight PL Pitcher of the Month Award on Tuesday, struck out 10 without issuing a walk in a 126-pitch effort.
“I definitely had some butterflies today,” said Yamamoto, one of the stars of Japan’s Tokyo Olympic gold medal-winning team.
“Once we got the run, I thought, ‘OK, I’ll hold them and we’ll get some more runs.’”
The Buffaloes, whose franchise has not reached the Japan Series since the Orix BlueWave won it all behind Ichiro Suzuki in 1996, exploited two first-inning walks from Lotte right-hander Ayumu Ishikawa to open the scoring.
With two outs, Yuma Mune sprinted from second to touch home on Takahiro Okada’s hard-hit single.
“Mune did well to score on that play, and the atmosphere on the bench was electric,” said Okada. “Yamamoto hasn’t pitched in a while so he looked a little tight, and because of that I’m so glad we could get on the board first.”
The game might not have been so close if it hadn’t been for a pair of spectacular plays from Marines shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
Buffaloes manager Satoshi Nakajima said, “You’d have to say today was Yamamoto, Yamamoto, Yamamoto. He didn’t pitch all that well from the get-go but still did a heck of a job.”
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, the 20-year-old Okugawa struck out nine without a walk and needed just 98 pitches to go the distance.
“I’m quite relieved because I was so nervous before the game,” Okugawa said. “I thought that if I did my best to keep us in the game, then we would win.”
The Swallows also used their speed to break the ice in the first. Yasutaka Shiomi reached on a leadoff double and scored from third when shortstop Hayato Sakamoto made a tricky catch on Munetaka Murakami’s flare into shallow left.
“Coach (Kazuki) Fukuchi told me that if Sakamoto’s posture after the catch was bad, ‘Go as hard as you can,’” Shiomi said.
Domingo Santana hit the next pitch from Giants starter Shun Yamaguchi into the seats at the home run-friendly park with a runner on first to make it 3-0.
“I didn’t feel that good (off the bat) but we’re at Jingu, so thank God,” Santana said.
Shiomi gave Okugawa some breathing room in the seventh with an RBI double to complete the scoring.
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Source: The Japan Times