Osaka – Yuma Mune is taking his chance and running with it.
Maybe even all the way to a Japan Series title.
The Orix Buffaloes third baseman was in the thick of the action in Game 1 of the Japan Series on Saturday night, helping his team rally from a two-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth in a 4-3 sayonara victory over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at Kyocera Dome Osaka.
Before Masataka Yoshida ended the game with a walk-off double, Mune tied the score by shooting a splitter from Swallows closer Scott McGough back up the middle to drive in two runs.
“I think winning the first game gives the team a lot of momentum,” Mune said.
The Buffaloes went into the ninth trailing 3-1 after a two-run home run from the Swallows’ Munetaka Murakami in the top of the eighth. Orix was down to its final three outs, but the club was able to rally for a 1-0 lead in the series.
“It was late in the game and it wasn’t looking good,” Mune said of Murakami’s deep ball to center. “But that’s also baseball. The Japan Series is a battle between two first-place teams, so we had to win. We all fought for nine innings and never gave up.”
That perseverance helped lift the Buffaloes to a victory to start the Japan Series and that same type of attitude has helped guide Mune to this moment.
Because there weren’t many chances for the 25-year old earlier in his career.
Mune was taken with Orix’s second pick of the 2014 draft, but didn’t play much on the farm team in 2015, partially due to injuries. He played more in 2016 and made his NPB debut against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on Sept. 18 of that year as the starting shortstop. He didn’t get his first hit until the following September — a single to left off the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ Yuki Saito.
He got a big jump in playing time in 2018, appearing in 74 games, though batting just .233. Mune only played in 54 games the following season and he hit just .225 in 182 at-bats in 72 games last year, when the league played an abbreviated 120-game schedule.
Something has clicked for the young infielder this year and he’s made the most of his time on the field. He played in 139 of 143 games during the regular season, batting .272 and finishing with nine home runs, eight stolen bases and 42 RBIs. One of his home runs was an inside-the-park homer against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on May 3, one of only two in NPB this season. Mune’s teammate Kenya Wakatsuki hit the other.
The still-developing infielder posted a .979 fielding percentage at third base in 126 games.
Mune only had two hits in the final stage of the Pacific League Climax Series against the Chiba Lotte Marines, but one of them was a two-run home run in the sixth inning of Game 3, the series-clinching contest.
That helped the Buffaloes punch their ticket to the Japan Series and Mune came through again in the clutch on Saturday.
“I just can’t believe it,” he said when asked about his two big hits this postseason.
Mune’s teammates set the stage for him in Game 1.
Kotaro Kurebayashi started the ninth with a single, Adam Jones drew a walk and Orix ended up with runners on every base after Yakult failed to record an out on a sacrifice bunt.
Mune stepped to the plate looking to do anything except hit into double play with two strong bats behind him in the lineup and came through with his two-run single as the crowd at Kyocera Dome erupted.
After the game, Yoshida said the energy Mune’s hit created gave him a boost in his final at-bat, which won the game.
“All of our guys played with the attitude we weren’t going to give up, and that got us this win,” Mune said.
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