The Orix Buffaloes looked good last week.
They also played reasonably well too, winning four of their seven games, despite ending on a losing note.
The struggling Pacific League outfit went into its past for a couple of games last week, playing a series in Kobe and wearing throwbacks from its Orix BlueWave era that looked great.
Orix pumped the nostalgia up to 10 by also bringing back its old mascot Neppie and the BlueWaves fight song. All that was missing was Ichiro Suzuki and his swinging leg kick and some "(Akira) Ogi Magic."
The players didn't really disappoint either, with some good pitching and nice hitting in three games against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. So for three nights at least, not only were the Buffaloes playing well, there also wasn’t a more stylish team in Japanese baseball.
On the diamond, the Buffalos took two out of three against Rakuten behind some excellent pitching.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto struck out nine in eight innings of one-run ball on Sept. 15. Daiki Tajima followed that by striking out eight and allowing only two hits and a walk in his first career shutout the next night. Rakuten won the finale 5-4.
The first game of that series also featured a brief star turn for Seiichiro Oshita, who was a sixth-round developmental draft pick in 2019. He hit a homer (a three-run shot) in his first career at-bat, becoming the 66th player in NPB history to do so.
"I was able to hit my first home run and hear the loud cheers in the stadium," he said afterward.
Oshita later said he'd give the ball to his father, who is recovering from an illness.
Orix kept the momentum going and won two of three against the Seibu Lions over the weekend back at Kyocera Dome.
That series got started with opening day starter Taisuke Yamaoka, who had his season interrupted because of injuries, throwing six innings of two-run ball for his first win of the year.
"I just feel like I've finally won," he said Friday. "I've been pitching as the visitor since I came back, so I'm happy I was able to get a win at home."
The club had been hoping to pull off a sweep, but blew a 4-0 lead against the Lions in a 5-4 loss on Sunday.
It was the latest tough lesson in a year that has featured a steep learning curve for the Buffaloes’ younger players and also fill-in manager Satoshi Nakajima, who was in charge of the farm team until late August.
"It's about how do we get the players out there, how is the team going to grow?" Nakajima was quoted as saying by Daily Sports after Sunday's loss. "Of course, winning is a positive thing and to that point, this was a game we had to win. So that was a miss and I'm sorry we weren't able to do both things."
On a positive note, the team had its first winning week since going 4-2-1 in a six-game series against the Eagles in late July.
"Right now, everybody is kind of starting to feel good," Steven Moya said during the hero interview on Friday. "That's the chemistry. We just have to, one after the other, believe that it's not one person but everybody that can do it."
At the other end of the PL standings, the first-place Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks won two out of three against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to start last week but just one of three against the Eagles over the weekend.
The second-place Chiba Lotte Marines, meanwhile, won three of their seven game, but are just 1½-games behind the Hawks. The news young pitcher Atsuki Taneichi will need Tommy John surgery, however, probably felt like extra loss.
Elsewhere around the PL last week, the Eagles were 3-4, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters won four of seven and the Lions finished up 3-3.
In the Central League, the Yomiuri Giants' big cushion at the top of the standings came in handy. After beating the Hanshin Tigers twice to start the week, Yomiuri dropped its next three games, including two against the Yokohama BayStars.
On Sunday, the Kyojin bounced back behind pitcher Seishu Hatake, who got the start when scheduled starter C.C. Mercedes was scratched a day earlier because of elbow discomfort. Hatake threw six scoreless innings for his first win since 2018.
Yomiuri is still in the driver's seat with a 10½-game lead over the Tigers and a magic number of 32.
The Tigers lost some ground in the race after a 2-4 week. On the plus side for Hanshin, Yusuke Oyama reached 20 home runs for the first time in his career with a grand slam on Friday and went deep again that same night.
The Giants may have won the finale in Yokohama, but the first two games of that series belonged to the third-place BayStars.
Takayuki Kajitani was dialed in during those first two games, connecting on a solo homer in the opener and two more home runs (a solo shot in the third and a two-run homer in the seventh) in a 7-1 win Saturday. Overall, he had 10 hits, three homers and five RBIs last week, though his team only broke even at 3-3.
The BayStars and Tigers entered this week separated by a half-game in the standings and started a three-game series on Monday. Hanshin won the first game to move ahead by 1½ games.
Among the other teams, the fourth-place Chunichi Dragons were 2-3 last week, the Hiroshima Carp were 3-2 and the last-place Swallows won four of six to move 1½-games behind Hiroshima.
Room for some more: NPB fans.
Japan relaxed its restrictions on large gatherings last week, paving the way for NPB teams to allow more fans into games.
While attendance had been capped at 5,000, teams became able to fill stadiums to half capacity on Saturday.
While the clubs decided to keep attendance far below half-capacity, there was still a big jump from Friday to Saturday with many more fans in the stands.
"Even though there was only 13,000 people it felt like there was 40,000 people," said BayStars manager Alex Ramirez, whose team faced the Giants in front of a crowd of 13,106 at Yokohama Stadium on Saturday.
The largest crowd of the weekend was in Yokohama, where the 15,842 watched the finale of the BayStars-Giants series on Sunday.
As easy as 1-2-3 for: the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
Talk about ending the week with a bang. On Sunday against the Carp, the Swallows began their half of the first inning with home runs from leadoff man Taiki Hamada, No. 2 batter Norichika Aoki and Tetsuto Yamada, who was hitting out of the 3-hole.
The Swallows, who went on to win 8-6, became the first team in 25 years to open a game with home runs from its first three batters.
It was a good week for: Yusuke Oyama
Hanshin's third baseman had a productive week with seven hits, three home runs and nine RBIs. He's also already set a new career high with 21 home runs this season.
It was a bad week for: Shogo Nakamura
The Lotte infielder had a rough week at the dish, going just 3-for-27, though he had a home run, in seven games.
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