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Baseball: Buffaloes win Pacific League pennant on Marines' loss

Orix Buffaloes manager Satoshi Nakajima, top, is tossed in the air by his players at Kyocera Dome Osaka after the team clinched the Pacific League baseball title on Oct. 27, 2021.(Kyodo)

SENDAI (Kyodo) -- The Orix Buffaloes captured their franchise's 13th Pacific League pennant on Wednesday and the first since Ichiro Suzuki led the Orix BlueWave to the title in 1996.

    Orix completed its regular season with a 4-0 shutout by ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto. That win required the second-place Lotte Marines to win two of their final three games without suffering a loss.

    The Buffaloes gathered in uniform at their home park, Kyocera Dome Osaka. From the dugout, they watched Lotte lose 2-1 to the third-place Rakuten Eagles.

    After rushing onto the field, the players tossed manager Satoshi Nakajima three times into the air in a celebratory "doage" ceremony.

    "It's the first time that's been done to me since my retirement ceremony, and I think it's quite scary," Nakajima said. "But that combination of joy and fear made it really fun."

    The Buffaloes are in their first full season under Nakajima, who was promoted to the interim job midway through the 2020 season, when the Buffaloes finished last. Orix's victory, coupled with the Yakult Swallows' Central League pennant marks the first time both league champions finished last the season before.

    "The very first thing I said this year was, 'Somehow we are going to turn this around after two straight last-place finishes,'" Nakajima said. "We're where we are now because the players and others took it to heart."

    "(During the celebration) I wanted to talk to everyone, but there was no time for that. Now I want to make the time and say 'thank you' to each individual."

    The title capped a remarkable season for a team few expected much from this season. And though they started slowly, the Buffaloes posted the best record in interleague, managed a string of 11 straight winning decisions, the franchise's longest win streak in 37 years and spent most of the summer in first place before surviving a fierce late challenge from Lotte.

    The Buffaloes were led this season by Yamamoto, who went 18-5 with four shutouts while striking out 206 batters and posting a sparkling 1.39 ERA.

    Rookie lefty Hiroya Miyagi also had a big season in the starting rotation, while Yoshihisa Hirano returned from the majors to save 29 games.

    The club lost batting star Masataka Yoshida late in the season but reaped huge rewards from right fielder Yutaro Sugimoto, who leads the league in home runs in his first season as a regular, while Yuma Mune, in his first full season at third base, is a strong candidate to win his first golden glove.

    The franchise was founded in 1936 and originally operated by Hankyu Railway as a founding member of Japan's first pro baseball league. The Hankyu Braves won 10 PL titles but were sold to Orix after the 1988 season. The BlueWave with Suzuki leading the way, won the PL in 1995 and 1996.

    In 2004, the BlueWave merged with Osaka's Kintetsu Buffaloes and emerged as the Orix Buffaloes.

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