Neither thrill nor agony in second game of the Japan Series as scene shifts to Osaka

The final out in Game 2 of the Japan Series invoked neither the thrill of victory nor the agony of defeat after five hours at Jingu Stadium on Sunday night.

A 3-3 tie between the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Orix Buffaloes left both sides in a weird state of emotional purgatory — pleased to have avoided a loss, yet disappointed to have fallen short of the win. The Buffaloes were in the field for the bottom of the 12th and formed a handshake line like they would after a win. The Swallows carefully packed their things into backpacks and trudged back to their clubhouse.

The fans in the stands seemed to clap almost out of reflex, unsure whether to celebrate the result or lament the myriad missed chances of the previous few hours.

Both teams are headed to Kyocera Dome Osaka, where the series will resume with Game 3 on Tuesday. Neither side planned to practice on Monday. The Swallows lead the series 1-0, but both teams have questions to answer in a contest that could still swing either way and so far looks as tight as last year’s six-game Japan Series.

If either team can feel they “won” Game 2, it’s the Swallows, who went into the ninth inning trailing by three runs and tied the score in dramatic fashion on a pinch-hit, three-run home run by Soma Uchiyama.

“I think all our relievers did well,” manager Shingo Takatsu told reporters after the game. “Of course, Soma came up with the hit. The players all showed a lot of perseverance.”

The Swallows sent seven relievers to the mound after starter Cy Sneed, and they combined to allow just one run over eight innings. That performance likely gives the team confidence with the prospect of more tight games ahead as the series continues.

“Everyone pitched except (Takuma) Kubo,” Takatsu said. “They went to the mound with a great understanding of their roles and the traits of the opposing hitters.”

Yakult’s big question mark so far is Tetsuto Yamada. The Swallows’ second baseman has been great in the field but has given the team nothing in the No. 3 spot in the order in front of No. 4 hitter Munetaka Murakami.

Yamada struck out in four straight at-bats in Game 1 and was 0-for-5 in Game 2. He has no hits, six strikeouts and has walked once in 10 trips to the plate. He nearly wiped away the bad vibes with a deep drive to center in the bottom of the ninth. The ball, however, stayed in the park, and Yamada’s slump continued.

“I don’t think he’s in a bad condition,” Takatsu said. “He’s been swinging hard and fouling off a lot of balls. I think he will hit.”

Aside from Yamada, Yasutaka Shiomi and Jose Osuna are off to hot starts, while Murakami is 2-for-9 with a homer.

The Buffaloes left Game 2 after blowing a great chance to even the series at 1-1. Starting pitcher Sachiya Yamasaki and outfielder Yutaro Sugimoto both drove in runs, and the Buffaloes scored another on an error. The pitching staff protected the lead, with Yamasaki leading the way with five scoreless frames, bending but not breaking along the way.

The ninth inning, though, is the glaring stain on an otherwise clean sheet. Closer Shota Abe allowed a hit and walked a batter before Uchiyama, a 20-year-old in his first Japan Series at-bat, tied the game with a three-run home run. The Buffaloes salvaged the tie with three more scoreless frames.

Manager Satoshi Nakajima said afterward he expects Abe to move on and bounce back in his next opportunity.

“That’s the important thing,” he said.

Orix heads home optimistic about the fact Nakajima has a trio of solid starting pitchers — Hiroya Miyagi, Daiki Tajima and Taisuke Yamaoka — to choose from for the next three games. The Buffaloes will also add another bat to the lineup as the designated hitter comes into play with the series moving to the Pacific League park.

The team has produced plenty of hits, but has not consistently turned them into runs. Orix racked up 23 hits during the two games at Jingu, but only four — a triple and three doubles — went for extra bases.

Sugimoto’s struggles in the No. 5 spot have allowed the Swallows to neutralize Orix’s best hitter, cleanup man Masataka Yoshida, with intentional walks in big spots.

Kotaro Kurebayashi, 4-for-9 with pair of doubles, has been a bright spot late in the order, but the Buffaloes may need more firepower to keep up with Yakult.

The tie in Game 2 also raised the possibility of the series being knotted at 3-3 after Game 7. That scenario would lead to a Game 8, which has happened only once before — during the 1986 Series between the Hiroshima Carp and Seibu Lions.