The Orix Buffaloes are Japan Series Champions.
If someone were to say that two years ago, they would’ve been looked at like they had just walked up to someone on the street and proclaimed themselves to be the messiah.
The response would have been genuine confusion, and maybe going along with it politely while they looked for a way out of the conversation, perhaps covertly forming their keys into makeshift knuckledusters in case that weirdo tried anything.
That is how bad the post-merger Buffaloes had been. They were a joke. A hollow shell of a team brought about by an incident that caused the league national and international embarrassment.
This is not only due to Orix’s 30-year-long history of breaking fan promises, but also the fact that the two teams that merged were rivals, whose players and fans had a long history of brawling. Covered more in depth in this video:
And now, not only have they won back-to-back Pacific League Pennants, but they’ve also won their first Japan Series title since 1996, and they did it against the juggernaut that is the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
It looked like it would all fall apart in Game One. Buffaloes Ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, winner of back-to-back all-NPB Triple Crowns, was attempting to pitch through a severe cramp in his leg, gave up two runs in the bottom of the first on a double from Jose Osuna. Swallows starter Yasuhiro Ogawa had troubles of is own.
After giving up an RBI single to Buffaloes Shortstop Kotaro Kurebayashi, he walked Shuhei Fukuda with the bases loaded, driving in the tying run.
But the Swallows offense rallied. Yasutaka Shiomi went deep in the third, and Jose Osuna hit one out in the fourth. Eventually, the cramp became too much for Yamamoto, and he was lifted in the 5th inning.
Takahiro Okada hit a pinch-hit home run in the 8th to bring the Buffaloes within one, but NPB’s best hitter, Swallows slugger Munetaka Murakami, answered an inning later, homering off of Buffaloes setup man Yoshihisa Hirano.
The Buffaloes got off to a strong start in Game Two. The Buffaloes jumped out to a 3-0 lead by the fifth, while holding Yakult scoreless, up until the Swallows 20-year-old backup catcher Souma Uchiyama was called up to pinch hit with two on.
He would send Meiji Jingu Stadium into raptures with a game tying three-run shot, sending the game to extras. However, nobody was able to score before 12 innings were up, and thus, for the ninth time in NPB history, there was a tie in the Japan Series.
With the series shifting back to Osaka for Game Three, the Swallows found their offensive grove, taking the game 7-1 on the backs of Tetsuto Yamada, Jose Osuna, and Munetaka Murakami.
Much like the Phillies blowing up the Astros and then getting no-hit the next day, Game Four was a complete reversal. Despite outhitting the Buffaloes six to three, the Swallows were held completely off the board by Taisuke Yamaoka, Yuki Udagawa, Soichiro Yamazaki and Jake Waguespack.
Yutaro Sugimoto drove in Keita Nakagawa for the game’s lone run. The Buffaloes held on for their first win of the series, one to nothing.
Game Five, the last at the Kyocera Dome, was a back-and-forth affair. Jose Osuna and Domingo Santana gave the Swallows a two-run lead after two, then the Swallows tied it in the fourth, off RBI hits from Kotaro Kurebayashi and Kenya Wakatsuki. Masataka Yoshida gave the Buffaloes the lead with a solo shot in the fifth.
An inning later, 41-year-old former MLBer Nori Aoki hit a two-run double to give the Swallows the lead back.
All the Swallows had to do was hand the ball to Scott McGough, and they’d get out of it. McGough however, made two crucial mistakes.
First, he made a throwing error that allowed the Buffaloes to score the tying run, then he made the mistake of pitching to Masataka Yoshida. NPB’s second-best hitter deposited one in the third deck to send the Dome into a frenzy and tie the series at two.
Game Six would mirror Game Four in a lot of ways, the Buffaloes held a slim, one run lead going into the ninth, and the Swallows would send in McGough to keep them right there. Instead he made his second throwing error in as many games to give the Buffaloes a three-nothing lead, which they would not relinquish.
Game Seven started off with a bang, as Ryo Ohta took the first pitch he saw from Cy Sneed into the batter’s eye to give the Buffaloes a one-nothing lead. The first time in Japan Series history that the first pitch of a game has resulted in a home run.
After the Buffaloes scored another run in the fourth, Yasutaka Shiomi misplayed a fly ball from Yutaro Sugimoto, resulting in a three-run three-base error. Jose Osuna would make one last valiant effort to save the Swallows season with a three-run shot, but it was all for naught. Former Toronto Blue Jay Jake Waguespack shut the door in the bottom of the inning and the Buffaloes won the game five to four, and the series four to two.
Yutaro Sugimoto won Japan Series MVP, while Jose Osuna took home the Fighting Spirit Award as MVP of the losing side.