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Olympic memories and the record books color the 2021 Japan Series


Masataka Yoshida’s game-winning single to center against Scott McGough in Game 1 of the Japan Series was not the first time the Orix Buffaloes star has gotten the best of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows closer this year.

Yoshida also helped bring in a run (thanks to an error) late in a game with a hit to center off McGough earlier in the year — when the pair faced off in the final of the baseball tournament at the Tokyo Olympics.

Yoshida and McGough are among the handful of players giving this year’s Japan Series a little Olympic flair.

The Buffaloes have three Olympians on their roster, with Yoshida and pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto part of the Samurai Japan squad that won gold, and reliever Cesar Vargas having played for Mexico.

Yakult has three in its dugout as well, with stars Munetaka Murakami and Tetsuto Yamada also winning gold with Japan, while McGough pitched for the United States and earned a silver medal.

The Olympians were in the middle of the action in Game 1 of the Japan Series. Yamamoto got the start for his team and threw six innings while allowing one run, Murakami hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in the eighth, Yamada scored two runs and Yoshida came out on top of his matchup with McGough to give Orix the win.

Vargas made his first appearance in Game 2, walking a batter and allowing an unearned run.

No matter which team comes out on top, a few players will have a championship to go along with an Olympic medal when it’s all said and done.

Shhh, it’s a secret

Despite teams in both the Central and Pacific Leagues now naming their probable starters during the regular season and Climax Series, the practice must be agreed upon by both managers in the Japan Series.

The next day’s starter has usually been announced in recent years, but the managers did not come to an agreement this time, meaning there is no official announcement for the first time since 2017.

Buffaloes manager Satoshi Nakajima was OK with naming his pitchers, but Swallows skipper Shingo Takatsu, a former pitcher himself, took a cue from his old manager Katsuya Nomura and kept his cards to his chest.

“Well, is it alright if I do it?” Nakajima asked during the managers’ meeting before the series. When told he could do as he liked, he named Yoshinobu Yamamoto as his starter for Game 1. Nakajima also named Hiroya Miyagi as his starter the night before Game 2.

With the series even at 1-1 after Orix’s loss on Sunday, Nakajima hinted he may not be quite as open going forward.

“It’s probably OK to stop after you lose,” he said.

Welcome back

The biggest cheers prior to Game 2 at Kyocera Dome Osaka on Sunday were reserved for Swallows outfielder Tomotaka Sakaguchi.

Swallows fans, of course, cheered for him, but the 37-year-old outfielder also got a very warm welcome from Buffaloes fans, who watched him play for their team for several seasons.

Sakaguchi began his career with the Kintetsu Buffaloes in 2003 and played for the Orix Buffaloes after the merger of the Buffaloes and Orix BlueWave, from 2005-2015, winning Golden Gloves from 2008-2011 and making the All-Star team with the squad in 2011.

He received a big cheer on a couple of occasions prior to the game, though the reception cooled after he singled to left to put some pressure on Buffaloes pitcher Hiroya Miyagi in the sixth.

Home sweet home

Game 2 was the final game of the series that will be played at either team’s main park.

Scheduling conflicts mean the Swallows will host the next three games at Tokyo Dome, home of the rival Yomiuri Giants, instead of Jingu Stadium.

Should the series go beyond five games, the Buffaloes will be returning to their roots, as more scheduling conflicts will mean they also won’t be able to use their home park.

Games 6 and 7, if necessary, are scheduled to be played at Hotto Motto Field Kobe, the current name of the Orix BlueWave’s old home field in Kobe. The venue should hold warm memories for BlueWave fans as that was where Orix won the final game of the 1996 Japan Series.

In the swing

There hasn’t been a ton of offense so far, but a couple of players have managed to get off to good starts to this year’s Series

The Buffaloes’ Yuma Mune is 3-for-8 with a double and a pair of RBIs and Kotaro Kurebayashi is 3-for-7. The only other player with three hits is Swallows slugger Munetaka Murakami, with one of those being a two-run homer.

Put it in the books

This Japan Series is only two games old, but it’s already led to some revisions in the record books.

The Swallows now own a mark they’d rather not have after setting a record with 15 strikeouts in Game 1. The club also struck out in every inning of that contest, becoming the ninth team to do so in the Japan Series.

The series opener also saw the Buffaloes’ Steven Moya become the 15th player to homer in his first Japan Series at-bat when he took Yasunobu Okugawa deep in the seventh inning of Game 1. That shot was also the 31st pinch-hit home run in Japan Series history.

Neither club managed a single extra-base hit during Game 2, marking the sixth time that has happened in the Japan Series.

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