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Iwakuma ties up big-money deal

Kyodo

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma on Friday signed the richest contract in club history, a three-year, ¥1.1 billion deal through 2011.

Iwakuma picked up nearly one-third of the fifth-place team’s total wins in 2008, going 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA in 28 starts to earn the Sawamura Award, the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award, and Pacific League MVP honors.

“The club gave me the best evaluation. I’m happy that I signed,” the 27-year-old said.

Iwakuma became the first 21-game winner in 23 years in Japanese baseball. Yoshinori Sato posted the same number of wins with the 1985 Hankyu Braves.

In Fukuoka, Softbank Hawks slugger Nobuhiko Matsunaka re-signed with the PL club for an unchanged ¥500 million plus performance bonuses in 2009, the fourth year of his seven-year contract.

The 35-year-old first baseman-outfielder, the only Hawk who played all 144 games last season, hit .290 with 25 home runs and 92 RBIs.

“I slowed down late in the season, so I feel responsible (for the team’s last-place finish),” said Matsunaka, who homered only twice in the last two months of the season.

Iwakuma and Matsunaka are among the 34 candidates announced Dec. 15 to represent Japan in the World Baseball Classic next March.

In Nagoya, 43-year-old Chunichi Dragons left-hander Masahiro Yamamoto signed a two-year deal with the Central League club.

Yamamoto will make ¥150 million, unchanged from 2008, plus performance bonuses in 2009 and his salary will vary in the second year.