Baseball: Nakagawa game-winner sends Buffaloes into Japan Series

OSAKA (Kyodo) — Keita Nakagawa singled in the winning run in the ninth inning as the Pacific League champion Orix Buffaloes advanced to the Japan Series with a 3-2 walk-off win over the SoftBank Hawks on Saturday.

Nakagawa’s two-out single off closer Livan Moinelo at Kyocera Dome Osaka clinched the best-of-seven Climax Series final stage. Orix, which began with a one-win advantage as league champ and played all the games at home, won the series 4-1.

The win sets up a Japan Series rematch with the Central League champion Yakult Swallows, who won last year’s Japan championship in seven games over the Buffaloes. Game 1 will be next Saturday at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.

“They got the better of us last year, and we’d like some payback this year,” manager Satoshi Nakajima said of the Buffaloes’ next challenge.

Orix starter Taisuke Yamaoka was extremely sharp in four scoreless innings, and Masataka Yoshida put the hosts ahead with a two-run home run off veteran lefty Tsuyoshi Wada in the bottom of the fourth.

Wada surrendered a leadoff fifth-inning single to Nakagawa and then threw a high lifeless pitch that Yoshida mashed into the fourth deck in center field.

The Buffaloes nearly broke the game open with two outs and two on in the sixth, but Hawks center fielder Taisei Makihara made a spectacular catch to rob Yuma Tongu of a two-run double.

That play loomed large in the seventh when Hawks star Yuki Yanagita walked against reliever Soichiro Yamazaki, and Alfredo Despaigne drove it out to center for a game-tying two-run home run.

Moinelo allowed a single and a walk in the ninth and was one strike away from getting out of the inning. Nakagawa, however, smashed the Cuban’s 2-2 pitch into left field to start the celebrations.

“I thought he (Nakagawa) was going to decide the game there, and it was a relief that he did,” Nakajima said. “It meant I wouldn’t have to figure out the relief pitchers we’d need in extra innings.”