The Tokyo Yakult Swallows captured their eighth Central League championship, and first since 2015, on Tuesday in manager Shingo Takatsu’s second season at the helm.

The title marked the second time in team history that the Swallows have won the pennant a year after finishing last, a feat they also accomplished in 2015.

“The day before we started camp, we talked about remembering the frustration of two straight last-place finishes and taking that into the season with us,” Takatsu said. “We got off to a rough start and I think the players took that to heart, too, and just played their hearts out up until now.”

The Swallows’ 5-1 win over the DeNA BayStars at Yokohama Stadium, coupled with the second-place Hanshin Tigers’ loss to the Chunichi Dragons, lifted Yakult to the title.

“Our first priority was winning our game, but at the same time we were a little concerned with the Tigers’ wins and losses,” Takatsu said after being tossed in the air by the team in a celebratory doage ceremony.

The club made huge improvements on both sides of the ball this year, but the most noticeable was on the pitching side, where the Swallows entered Tuesday’s games having walked the fewest batters in either league, while leading the CL in strikeouts.

“Our pitching has been improving year by year, and this season we felt the staff could put us in contention,” Takatsu said.

The pitching was helped by having catcher Yuhei Nakamura healthy for most of the season, getting a great contribution from rookie right-hander Yasunobu Okugawa and big seasons from setup man Noboru Shimizu and closer Scott McGough.

First-year imports, pitcher Cy Sneed, outfielder Domingo Santana and first baseman Jose Osuna, all provided important contributions after arriving in April.

The franchise, founded ahead of the 1950 season, was handicapped by having to play home games away from Jingu Stadium, which was closed for much of the summer due to its proximity to National Stadium, the centerpiece of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

With the game in Yokohama tied 1-1 in the third inning, the Swallows loaded the bases against lefty Shota Imanaga (5-5) with one out. Santana drove a ball into the gap in right to break the tie, and Nakamura doubled off the wall in left to make it 5-1.

Swallows right-hander Hirotoshi Takanashi allowed a first-inning run, but left after four innings without allowing another. Lefty Keiji Takahashi (4-1), normally a starter, worked two scoreless innings of relief from the fifth to earn the win.

Dragons 4, Tigers 0

At Nishinomiya’s Koshien Stadium, southpaw Shinnosuke Ogasawara (8-10) worked six innings to earn the win and Yohei Oshima delivered a crushing two-run fifth-inning single as Chunichi eliminated Hanshin from the pennant race.


Fighters 1, Lions 0

At Sapporo Dome, Hokkaido Nippon Ham edged closer to moving out of the Pacific League cellar with a walk-off win over fifth-place Seibu. The Lions lead the Fighters on winning percentage, .440 to .438.

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