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Baseball: Yoshida caps Orix’s winning rally in Japan Series opener

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mainichi– Masataka Yoshida’s ninth-inning RBI double capped a three-run rally off closer Scott McGough as the Pacific League champion Orix Buffaloes beat the Central League champion Yakult Swallows 4-3 in Japan Series Game 1 on Saturday.

Yoshida, who had twice come close to driving in the game’s first runs, made good with his third chance seconds after Yuma Mune tied it with a two-run single at Kyocera Dome Osaka off McGough (0-1).

For five innings, the game was a scoreless pitchers’ duel between rookie Swallows right-hander Yasunobu Okugawa and Japan’s Olympic ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

Yakult catcher Yuhei Nakamura broke the ice with a sixth-inning RBI single after Yamamoto issued a pair of walks. Steven Moya tied it 1-1 against Okugawa with a seventh-inning pinch-hit homer, only for Munetaka Murakami, whose 39 home runs tied for the CL lead, to break the tie with a two-run eighth-inning homer.

Trailing 3-1, rookie Kotaro Kurebayashi singled to open the ninth against McGough, who then walked pinch-hitter Adam Jones. The pitcher failed to get the lead runner on a sacrifice bunt as the Buffaloes loaded the bases with no outs.

With the Swallows infield at double-play depth, Mune’s sharp grounder up the middle evaded shortstop Naomichi Nishiura’s glove and skipped into center for a two-run single.

Yoshida, who had hit the ball well all night, hit a liner to center that barely got over the Swallows’ shallow outfield defense to win it.

“I was able to capitalize on the momentum after Mune raised the energy level in this park to the highest it’s ever been,” said Yoshida, who hit into bad luck in the third inning and just missed a three-run homer in the fifth that died on the warning track.

“I thought this would be my last chance, especially after that previous one where I didn’t have enough power.”

Okugawa allowed a run on six hits and two walks while striking out three over seven innings. He needed some luck and good defense to do it, but he outlasted Yamamoto, who left after allowing a run over six innings.

Yamamoto struck out nine, but without his best command and movement, the Swallows could run up his pitch count by hitting balls foul and forcing him out after throwing 112 pitches.

The Swallows caught the first big break when right fielder Takeshi Miyamoto saved two runs with a two-out catch in the second inning, robbing Buffaloes’ No. 9 hitter Kenya Wakatsuki of a two-run double off the wall.

Yoshida, the PL batting champion, came close to putting the Buffaloes on the board in the third when he hit a smoking liner with Mune on second, but his drive was hit straight to short.

Okugawa really got lucky against Yoshida in the fifth, when he drove a bad pitch and thought he had a three-run homer only for the ball to be caught.

Orix got a scoreless seventh inning from reliever Ryo Yoshida, and Moya tied it in the bottom of the seventh. After failing to capitalize on Okugawa’s mistakes all night, Moya got all of a lazy hanging slider up in the zone and hit it out.

The game did not stay tied for long. Tetsuto Yamada singled off Tyler Higgins to open the Swallows’ eighth, and Murakami followed with a home run that just cleared the wall in center.

CL holds leader Noboru Shimizu survived a scare in the eighth, but McGough couldn’t get out of a pickle in the ninth.

Right-hander Motoki Higa (1-0) worked a scoreless ninth to earn the win for Orix.

The PL, which has won every Japan Series since 2013, has now won 13 straight series games over the CL.