Sendai – The Orix Buffaloes moved top of the Pacific League in their final game of the regular season Monday as Yoshinobu Yamamoto capped his stellar year with a four-hit shutout of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in a 4-0 win.
Yamamoto (18-5) outpitched former New York Yankee Masahiro Tanaka (4-9) to lift the Buffaloes above their pennant rivals Chiba Lotte Marines, who were clobbered 15-7 by the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks but still have three games to play.
The Marines’ magic number remained at three, and they need two wins and a tie from their remaining games to ensure their first pennant since 2005.
Orix’s Yamamoto fanned seven and issued a walk in a 122-pitch effort at Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, earning his 15th straight winning decision to set his new club record.
Tanaka was the last pitcher to reach the mark in Nippon Professional Baseball when he went 24-0 in 2013 before his departure to the majors.
After overcoming his Tokyo Olympic teammate, 23-year-old Yamamoto is set to end the season by leading the PL with 18 wins and a 1.39 ERA, as well as in winning rate and strikeouts.
“I swung my arm as hard as I could just thinking about winning,” said the right-hander, whose pitch hit 155 km/h from the first inning as he went on to scatter four singles.
“I didn’t think there’d be a chance to pitch against him (Tanaka) at the end of the season, so I was really excited even before the game. I restrained myself, trying to calm down somehow before throwing.”
After opening the game with three perfect innings, Tanaka issued his first walk in the fifth. The runner advanced to second with two outs before 19-year-old Kotaro Kurebayashi singled to left to drive in the game’s first run.
A fielding error by Rakuten shortstop Tsuyoshi Yamasaki cost the team dearly in the seventh as it left runners on the corners with two outs before Kurebayashi again delivered, with his blooper to right plating the Buffaloes second run.
Tanaka was tagged with the loss despite a fine 109-pitch outing, yielding two runs, one earned, striking out eight while giving up four hits and a walk over eight innings.
Alan Busenitz gave up two further runs to Orix in the ninth through a two-run squeeze by Ryoichi Adachi before Yamamoto, who pitched with velocity and control throughout the game, closed it with a 1-2-3 inning.
After finishing bottom of the PL in the past two seasons, Orix could land its first pennant since 1996 should Lotte lose a single game this week.
At Zozo Marine Stadium, Lotte starter Manabu Mima (6-7) allowed seven runs over 1-2/3 innings as the Hawks led 10-1 after four innings. Ryoya Kurihara drove in five runs, including a two-run homer, as SoftBank amassed 20 hits.
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