The Orix Buffaloes made the most of interleague play.
The Kansai club limped into the interleague slate three games under .500 and in fifth place in the Pacific League standings. What followed was a 12-5-1 run against the Central League from May 25 to June 13. The Buffaloes won the interleague title for the first time since 2010 and will go back into intraleague play in third place and three games above .500.
Buffaloes manager Satoshi Nakajima was at a loss to explain the team's turnaround.
"I don't know," he was quoted as saying by Jiji Press. "The players really did their best."
When asked who he felt was the MVP, Nakajima told reporters, "it's all of us."
Orix did not back into first place. The Buffaloes put the hammer down last week to pull away from the Chunichi Dragons and DeNA BayStars, who also had their eyes on the annual midseason crown.
Orix secured the highest interleague winning percentage by going 5-0-1 last week. The key component of that run was a dominant showing on the mound that featured three standout performances.
Taisuke Yamaoka got the ball rolling against the Yomiuri Giants on June 8, allowing two runs over seven innings while striking out 12. Hiroya Miyagi took the mound against the Giants on Wednesday and carried a no-hitter into the seventh. He finished with seven innings of one-run ball and 13 strikeouts.
Ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto took things up another notch against the Hiroshima Carp on Friday. Yamamoto was on top of his game from the start and went into the eighth with a perfect game before allowing a pair of hits. He settled for a gem that saw him finish with eight scoreless innings and 15 strikeouts.
While the Buffaloes surged to the finish line, the Dragons were 2-4 last week. The BayStars, whose loss to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Saturday sealed the title for Orix, were 2-3-1.
Elsewhere around NPB, the final weekend of interleague play featured a matchup of the CL-leading Hanshin Tigers and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, the PL leaders.
Hanshin took the first game behind a strong performance by Koyo Aoyagi, who allowed two runs — one earned — over eight innings in a 3-2 win on Friday. The Hanshin bats did the job on Saturday, with three players going deep — twice off Masahiro Tanaka — in a 9-1 win. Koji Chikamoto tripled in a tiebreaking run in the ninth on Sunday to help the Tigers complete the sweep with a 6-5 victory.
Hanshin looked just as strong as Orix, its Kansai brethren, in going 6-0 last week. Hanshin finished second in the interleague standings.
The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, NPB's most successful team in interleague play with eight titles, had an uncharacteristically poor run this year. The team, which is missing a few players due to injuries and Cuban national team duties, was just 5-9-4 this year and finished 10th, it's worst showing.
SoftBank was 1-3-2 in its six games last week. Among the few bright spots was Wladimir Balentien connecting on a home run in his second at-bat on Sunday against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, his former team.
That blast gave Balentien his 1,000th hit and 300th career home run in Japan. He got to work on his next milestone with another homer in his next at-bat.
The Central league finished the week leading the overall interleague battle with a 48-46-11 record against the PL with makeup games left to play.
Seibu Lions reliever Kaima Taira wrote his name in the record books on Sunday with a save in a 4-3 win over the Dragons.
Taira allowed a single against Dayan Viciedo before getting three straight outs to wrap up his 32nd straight scoreless appearance since opening day, a new NPB record.
"I'm happy to set a new Japanese record," Taira was quoted as saying by Daily Sports. "Since it would've been tied if I allowed a run, I knew I needed to put up a zero and was determined to not allow any runs."
Taira's record is for games from the start of the season. The overall mark for consecutive scoreless appearances is 38 and was set by former Tigers reliever Kyuji Fujikawa in 2006.
Completing the set
BayStars slugger Tyler Austin homered against the Seibu Lions on Wednesday night and went deep again on Friday night against the Fighters.
Those blasts helped Austin finish interleague play with a home run against all six PL clubs. The American slugger also has homers against the other five CL teams this year.
All good things end
The Dragons' Dayan Viciedo entered last week on a 16-game hitting streak and extended it with two-hit performances in his first three games. Viciedo pushed his streak to 20 with a 1-for-3 night against the Lions on Friday before going hitless on Saturday. Vicideo is hitting .312 overall in 54 games.
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