Even though the Japan Series 2021 features some of the best rising stars in the NPB, 41-year-old Tokyo Yakult Swallows pitcher Masanori Ishikawa has proven that it’s not just a young man’s game.
Ishikawa drew on two decades of experience and a lead hitter continued to swing to throw six strong frames and help the Swallows move closer to their first Japan Series title in 20 years with a 2-1 victory over the Orix Buffaloes in Game 4 at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday night.
“I’m really, really happy,” Ishikawa said.
Jose Osuna broke a 1-1 tie with an RBI single in the sixth, and relievers Taichi Ishiyama, Noboru Shimizu and closest Scott McGough protected a slim advantage the rest of the way.
“I was throwing with the intention of returning him to the reliever box in good condition,” Ishikawa said. “The hitters got the first point for us and the defensemen played well on defense.
Ishikawa pitched for the Swallows in Games 1 and 5 of the 2015 Japanese Series, when the team failed against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. The left-hander lost both games but claimed his first Japan Series victory on Wednesday.
Ishikawa struck out five strikes and allowed just three hits and walked a batter. He didn’t have a blazing fastball – he threw one at 128 km / h (80 mph) at Masataka Yoshida for a strike – but he still threw it at the dangerous hitters in the Buffaloes roster. He had swings on his lead and got a few calls around the corners on a solid night on the mound.
“I had a bad experience in the Japan Series last time,” Ishikawa said. “I was given a game as important as Game 4 and I really wanted to respond to the manager’s confidence in me. I thought that would be quite OK (the words of a manager Shingo Takatsu that turned into a slogan) and I climbed the mound. “
Yakult leads the series 3-1 and can clinch his first title since 2001 with a win in Game 5 on Thursday at the Tokyo Dome. The Swallows have won three straight after losing Game 1 to a brace.
“We’re going to do our best to finish it at Tokyo Dome,” Ishikawa said.
The Buffaloes will enter Game 5 with their backs to the wall.
“We just have to keep going,” infielder Orix Yuma Mune said. “Everyone wants to come back and do what they can to win the remaining three games.”
Game 3 hero Domingo Santana started things early for Yakult with a home run to the right to start the second set. It happened one night after giving the Swallows the lead with a two-run homer in their final game at bat of Game 3.
Ishikawa allowed just one goal scorer from the second to the fifth inning. He only needed two shots to register the first two strikeouts of the sixth before giving up his second hit of the game against Shuhei Fukuda.
Mune, who was the hottest hitter in the series, then hit a right and Fukuda was able to score the tying point after Santana was unable to line up the ball cleanly.
It didn’t take long for Yakult to strike back.
Tetsuto Yamada walked on a walk to start the lower half of the inning against reliever Hirotoshi Masui. The Buffaloes, however, took a break when first baseman Takahiro Okada caught a Munetaka Murkami-hit line shot and then stepped on the sack to complete the double play.
The Swallows kept the pressure on, as Santana walked twice and Yuhei Nakamura scored on the right. Osuna came home with runners on first and second and new reliever Motoki Higa on the mound and hooked up on an RBI single to make it 2-1.
The race was blamed on Masui, who was also blamed for the loss.
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