2021 Japan Series
The 2021 Japan Series was the 72nd match-up of the champions of the Central League and Pacific League, Japan's top two circuits. It marked an unusual worst-to-first, like the 1991 World Series, both of the competitors having finished in the cellar in 2019 and 2020. Attendance was limited to 50% due to COVID-19 safety measures.
Managed by Satoshi Nakajima, Orix had won the PL regular-season title at 70-55-18, their first pennant in their 16 years of existence. Prior to becoming the Orix Buffaloes, they had functioned as two separate franchises; the Orix BlueWave had won the Japan Series 25 years previously, when Ichiro Suzuki was with them. Orix's 2021 team was second in the PL in ERA (3.31) and was third in offense (551 R). Masataka Yoshida (.339/.429/.563, 21 HR) won the batting title, while outfield mate Yutaro Sugimoto (.301/.378/.552) won the home run title (32). 1B Takahiro Okada hit .241/.322/.434 with 17 homers, while 3B Yuma Mune (.272/.335/.393) tied for the most triples. Yoshinobu Yamamoto (18-5, 1.39, 206 K in 193 2/3 IP) won a pitching Triple Crown while Hiroya Miyagi (13-4, 2.51) was a distant second in ERA. Effective relievers included Motoki Higa (1-0, 1.77), Ryo Yoshida (1-1, 2.12), Nobuyoshi Yamada (1-0, 2.27), Yoshihisa Hirano (1-3, 29 Sv, 2.30), Tyler Higgins (1-2, 2 Sv, 2.53) and Ryoga Tomiyama (1-1, 2.72).
Guided by Shingo Takatsu, the Swallows were in the Series for the first time since 2015. They led the CL in offense (618) while finishing third in fewest runs allowed (522). 3B Munetaka Murakami, at age 21, continued to develop into one of Japan's biggest stars. He hit .281/.411/.572 with 39 homers, 106 walks and 112 RBI, leading the CL in walks, tying for the home run lead and finishing second in RBI. 2B Tetsuto Yamada remained a key player (.272/.371/.516, 34 HR, 101 RBI) while OF Domingo Santana hit .290/.366/.511 with 19 homers and OF Yasutaka Shiomi (.280/.357/.443, 21 SB) led the league with 7 triples. Their staff had no one among the ERA qualifiers, relying heavily on relievers. Noboru Shimizu (3-6, Sv, 2.39) led the CL with 72 appearances, while also under 2.85 were Hiroki Kondoh (0-1, 0.96 in 22 G), Juri Hara (3-1, 2.30), Keiji Takahashi (4-1, 2.42), Yugo Umeno (2.49), Scott McGough (3-2, 31 Sv, 2.52), Yuto Kanakubo (4-1, 2.74), Ryuta Konno (7-1, 2.80) and Hiroki Ohnishi (3-0, 2.82).
Swallows: Munetaka Murakami
Buffaloes: Steven Moya
Orix's first Japan Series featured a splendid comeback win. For four innings, rookie Yasunobu Okugawa traded goose eggs with the year's pitching sensation, Yamamoto. Yakult RF Takeshi Miyamoto made a fine catch to rob C Kenya Wakatsuki with two men aboard in the 2nd. In the 5th, Orix got a shot against Okugawa when C Kenya Wakatsuki singled and 3B Mune drew a two-out walk. DH Yoshida hit one to the warning track but it fell just short. In the 6th, 2B Yamada drew a leadoff walk from Olympic teammate Yamamoto and DH Santana drew a one-out walk. C Yuhei Nakamura singled for a 1-0 lead.
Orix tied it in the 7th when PH Steven Moya took Okugawa deep. In the 8th, Yamada singled off Tyler Higgins and 3B Murakami delivered a two-run smash for a 3-1 lead. After Shimizu worked a scoreless 8th, closer McGough came to put it away in the bottom of the 9th but it did not pan out as planned. SS Kotaro Kurebayashi singled then PH Adam Jones drew a walk. CF Shuhei Fukuda laid down a bunt and McGough tried to get Kurebayashi but everyone with safe with no outs. Mune then singled up the middle to score two runs and tie it. Yoshida then delivered a game-winning double.
Swallows: Keiji Takahashi W (1-0)
For a team that relied heavily on his bullpen, Yakult rode their starter today as Takahashi threw 133 pitches in a complete game shutout (5 H, 2 BB, 5 K). It was again a pitching duel much of the day, as rookie Miyagi retired the 1st 16 batters and allowed one run in 7 2/3 IP. Yakult finally got to Miyagi in the 8th. With one out, SS Naomichi Nishiura coaxed a walk. After another out, CF Yasutaka Shiomi singled. 39-year-old LF Norichika Aoki singled into shallow right to bring in Nishiura. Yoshida relieved Miyagi and struck out Yamada to keep it 1-0.
In the 9th, Yakult got insurance against César Vargas. Santana walked, was bunted over and 1B José Osuna singled and RF Sugimoto made an error on the play to let PR Hiyu Motoyama scored. In the bottom of the 9th, Takahashi rolled through the heart of the order as DH Yoshida lined out to short, Sugimoto flew out and PH Jones struck out.
Buffaloes: Yutaro Sugimoto
Swallows: Domingo Santana
After two pitching duels, this one started off with a bit more offense. In the top of the third, C Torai Fushimi singled off Yasuhiro Ogawa and 1B Okada hit into an error by SS Nishiura. P Daiki Tajima bunted the runners over, then CF Fukuda drew a walk to load the bases. 3B Mune singled to make it 1-0. That brought up the dangerous duo of Yoshida and Sugimoto, but Ogawa struck out Yoshida and retired Sugimoto to escape further harm.
In the bottom of the 5th, Yakult took the lead. LF Aoki singled with one out to chase Tajima. Higa got one out then Vargas relieved, but walked 3B Murakami and RF Santana to load the bases. C Nakamura delivered a two-run single to center and an error on the play made it 3-1. Orix tied it in the 6th when Yoshida doubled and Sugimoto homered off Ogawa. In the top of the 7th, they went ahead when Albert Suárez walked C Fushimi and PH Wakatsuki and Yoshida singled off Kazuto Taguchi to score a run.
In the bottom of the 7th, Yakult came back against Yoshida. Aoki singled and Santana hit a two-run homer for the big blow. Orix threatened against McGough but he closed the door by getting Sugimoto on a grounder with men on the corners and two outs.
Swallows: Domingo Santana (2)
The Series remained a close affair, with the third one-run game to go with the one two-run game. As in Game 2, Orix got a strong start from a rookie pitcher, only to not get enough support. Soichiro Yamazaki gave up one run in five, a second-inning shot to RF Santana, the first player this Series to multiple dingers. Meanwhile, a player on the other end of the age spectrum was even sharper - 41-year-old Masanori Ishikawa blanked Orix for the first five innings, allowing two hits and one walk. CF Fukuda had a two-out single off him in the 6th and an error by Santana on a ball hit by 3B Mune tied the game.
The tie was short-lived. With two outs in the bottom of the inning, Santana drew a walk from Hirotoshi Masui. C Nakamura singled him over, then Higa relieved but 1B Osuna greeted him with the game-winning single. Ishiyama, Shimizu and McGough all worked a shutout inning to seal the deal. Ishikawa became the second pitcher over 40 to win a Japan Series game, following Tadashi Wakabayashi 71 years prior.
Buffaloes: Adam Jones
The dramatic games continued with another one-run affair, this time with Orix winning in the 9th to stay alive and take the Series back home.
RF Santana again got things going; he led off the 2nd with a walk from Sachiya Yamasaki, took third on a hit from C Nakamura and scored when 1B Osuna hit into a double play. In the 4th, the Buffaloes tied it against Hara; with two outs, LF Mastaka Yoshida doubled and RF Sugimoto singled him in. In the bottom of the inning, Yakult came right back when 3B Murakami hit a leadoff homer. Orix tied it again in the 6th. Yoshida hit into a two-out error by Osuna and Sugimoto and 1B Okada followed with singles to even it up.
In the 7th, Orix took their first lead. SS Kurebayashi singled off Ishiyama and scored on a triple by 2B Ryota Ota. Moya pinch-hit and singled home Ota for a 4-2 lead. In the 8th, Kurebayashi had a two-out single off Ohnishi and C Fushimi doubled him in for a three-run lead. Yakult came right back. Higgins walked CF Shiomi and LF Aoki, then 2B Yamada smacked a three-run shot to even it up.
Orix punched right back, with Jones hitting a pinch-hit dinger off McGough to open the 9th, handing McGough his second loss of the Series. In the bottom of the 9th, Hirano allowed a leadoff walk to PH Shingo Kawabata but he was stranded as Shiomi, Aoki and Yamada failed to come through.
Back home, Orix turned to Yamamoto to try to even the Series. He did a stellar job once again, fanning 11 in 9 innings (throwing 141 pitches), but was matched by a group of Yakult hurlers. Yakult got to him for his only run allowed in the 5th; 1B Osuna singled, was bunted over by RF Miyamoto and scored on a two-out hit by CF Shiomi. In the bottom of the inning, C Wakatsuki hit a one-out, bad-bounce single off Hirotoshi Takanashi and was bunted over by Ota. CF Fukuda also got a lucky bounce, getting past short. The throw to get Wakatsuki hit him in the arm, letting him come home to tie it. That chased Takanashi but Suárez turned in 2 1/3 shutout innings and Shimizu added two more as the Yakult bullpen was again strong.
LF Aoki hit a two-out double in the 10th off Hirano but Hirano retired 2B Yamada. With two outs in the bottom of the tenth, Takatsu turned to McGough, who had already lost twice this Series but also saved a couple. He finished that inning went 1-2-3 in the 11th. With two outs in the top of the 12th, Shiomi singled off Ryo Yoshida. Following a wild pitch, Kawabata continued the string of strong pinch-hit performances by players in the Series by singling to left to bring in the winning run. McGough hit backup 2B Tatsuya Yamaashi with one out in the bottom of the 12th but recovered to get Fukuda and 3B Mune to make up for his earlier losses, getting the win with 2 1/3 hitless innings. Nakamura was named Series MVP.
It was the first Japan Series won by the Central League since 2012.
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