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Squeezing into the playoffs: Orix edges PL champions to reach 1st Climax Series

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Squeezing into the playoffs: Orix edges PL champions to reach 1st Climax Series

by John E. Gibson (Sep 30, 2008)

The Orix Buffaloes have completed the transition.

The club on Monday squeezed out a 10-inning win over the recently crowned Pacific League champion Saitama Seibu Lions 4-3 to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since the three-team postseason format was introduced in 2004.

Tuffy Rhodes doubled off Koji Onuma (2-3) to open the 10th inning, and one out later Hiroyuki Oze laid down a successful squeeze to push home the winning run as Orix sent Seibu to its season-worst seventh straight loss.

But it took extra effort under skipper Daijiro Oishi, who took over in May after Terry Collins suddenly stepped down.

"We've accomplished our No. 1 goal, and I'm glad we got it done today," said Oishi, whose club locked up second place in the PL and home-field advantage in the first stage of the PLCS.

"It was a tough game. Oze did a good job of getting that bunt down--it was a tough pitch to handle."

A great run in the second half of the season--including a seven-game winning streak--produced the first postseason appearance for the team that rose from the merger of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix BlueWave for the 2005 season.

It's Orix's first playoff appearance in nine years.

"We went through a lot, so I'm just very happy right now," Oishi said. "The players did a fantastic job.

"As far as the Climax Series, it's too soon to think about that right now. We'll take a look at everything and decide on lineups and pitchers later."

The Buffaloes jumped out to a two-run lead four batters into the game. Former Lion Alex Cabrera straightened out a curve from Kazuhisa Ishii, sending a monstrous shot more than halfway up the bleachers in left with Mitsutaka Goto on board for his 36th homer and a 2-0 lead.

The Lions struck back quickly to cut the lead in half as Takumi Kuriyama singled with one out and Hiroyuki Nakajima split the gap in right-center field for an RBI double.

A Takeshi Hidaka homer in the sixth made it 3-1 Buffaloes, but the Lions roared back in the sixth inning. Goto hammered his 12th longball to left with one out and the bases empty. PL home run king Takeya Nakamura followed with his 45th to even the score at 3-3 and chase Kishida, who allowed a double to Yoshihito Ishii before leaving.

The Buffaloes got out of the jam and Ryota Katsuki (4-0) tossed two scoreless innings that included a two-out, two-on jam in the ninth, to close it out and get the win.

Kazuhiro Kiyohara, who spent 11 years with Seibu, received flowers and an honorary toss in the air from both teams after the game, Seibu's home finale. The 41-year-old--who will not be on the playoff roster--is retiring at the end of the regular season, his 23rd.

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