NAGOYA — The Chiba Lotte Marines have got wa. Now they have another Japan Series title to go along with it.
Yoshifumi Okada hit a tiebreaking triple in the top of the 12th and pitcher Yoshihiro Ito closed out the game in the bottom half to give Lotte a series-clinching 8-7 victory over the Chunichi Dragons in Game 7 on Sunday at Nagoya Dome.
“Our team is so strong,” Japan Series MVP Toshiaki Imae said. “We never gave up and always fought back. That’s how we ended our season.”
First-year manager Norifumi Nishimura was given a traditional doage, or victory toss, as the Marines celebrated in their first title since 2005.
“When we won the Climax Series, they only tossed me in the air three times,” Nishimura said. “But tonight I got tossed four times. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
A day after playing the longest game in Japan Series history (a 15-inning 2-2 tie that lasted 5 hours, 43 minutes), the two clubs found themselves in extra innings again.
Only this time there would be no tie, but it lasted 4:56.
“Yesterday was the first time I played in a 15-inning game in my career,” Imae said. “I am happy we did not do that again tonight.”
Dragons reliever Takuya Asao walked Imae to lead off the 12th. Ito then moved him over with a sacrifice bunt. A long at-bat by Tomoya Satozaki resulted in the second out of the frame, leaving it up to Okada.
A sixth-round draft pick in 2008, Okada came through with the biggest hit of his short career, a run-scoring triple that made the score 8-7.
Ito retired the Dragons in order in the 12th, with shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka fielding Atsushi Fujii’s grounder and throwing to first for the final out.
In his first year on the job, Nishimura delivered an improbable title run. He preached wa (harmony) throughout the season, bringing the team together after a tumultuous 2009 campaign.
The Japanese character for wa was all over the place at Chiba Marine Stadium during the Japan Series. On the road, fans waved flags and held up banners emblazoned with the character, displaying a oneness with their team.
The players bought into the concept wholeheartedly and the result was a surprising run through the Pacific League Climax Series.
Lotte defeated the Seibu Lions and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the playoffs to become the first-ever third-place finisher to reach the Japan Series, then became the first to bring home the trophy.
“I keep saying the same thing, but everyone contributed,” Nishimura said. “We played zen-nin yakyu (baseball using all players). I am so proud of the team and the way they played. Not only in the Japan Series, but also all season long.”
Imae, who was 4-for-5 with an RBI in the finale, earned the MVP award after hitting .444 with six RBIs in the series. Imae was also the MVP of the 2005 Japan Series.
“I was the MVP in 2005 as well,” Imae said. “So it’s unbelievable that I can be on a Japan Series championship team twice and be the series MVP both times as well.”
Okada was 3-for-6 with a pair of RBIs, including the one that won it all. He performed backflips on the field for the Lotte supporters after the game.
Indicative of their scrappy, gutsy play during this postseason, the Marines managed to score their final six runs all with two outs.
Relief duo Yasuhiko Yabuta and Tatsuya Uchi combined to throw five innings of scoreless relief, first keeping the Marines in the game, then helping preserve a late lead. Uchi was especially on top of his game, striking out seven over three innings.
Ito earned the win with two innings of scoreless relief. Asao was charged with the loss.
The Marines entered the game knowing they’d have to come back for an eighth game in the event of the loss. That threat looked all too real as the Dragons jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the third inning.
Unfazed, Lotte scored one run in the fourth, three in the fifth and another in the seventh, all coming with two outs, to rally past Chunichi and take a 7-6 lead.
“We were able to score with two outs as a result of us setting the table for each other,” Imae said.
The game stayed that way until the ninth, due in large part to a dazzling performance by Uchi.
Nishimura brought on his closer, Hiroyuki Kobayashi, in the ninth to close out the game and seal the series-clinching victory. That plan was foiled as Dragons slugger Kazuhiro Wada fouled off a number of pitches before hitting a leadoff triple to center. Tony Blanco followed with a game-tying sacrifice fly to center.
The score remained tied until Okada’s heroics in the 12th.