Chunichi Dragons reliever Takuya Asao and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks outfielder Seiichi Uchikawa had the same reaction to being named MVP of their respective leagues.
Asao was briefly at a loss for words and Uchikawa expressed his surprise on Thursday, when they were unveiled as the 2011 MVP winners from the Central and Pacific Leagues respectively.
“I can’t believe it,” Asao said at a news conference.
Uchikawa was happy to win, but acknowledged he was aided by the overall strength of the Hawks this season.
“I was on a great team,” Uchikawa said. “I’m just one of many players. Anyone could’ve been MVP.”
Asao played a vital role out of the bullpen for the pennant-winning Dragons, making 79 appearances and recording 45 holds. He finished the season with 10 saves, 100 strikeouts, a 0.41 ERA and didn’t allow a single home run in 87⅓ innings on the mound.
“I was determined to do my best the entire year,” Asao said. “I didn’t believe I would ever be named MVP. I’m really surprised.”
Asao is the first CL reliever to win the award since Yokohama BayStars closer Kazuhiro Sasaki in 1998. Genji Kaku was the last Dragons reliever named CL MVP, winning in 1988.
Asao garnered 170 first-place votes and 1,019 total points to finish ahead of teammate Kazuki Yoshimi, who had a point total of 825. Yoshimi had an MVP-worthy year himself, finishing 18-3 with a 1.65 ERA in 26 starts. Giants pitcher Tetsuya Utsumi, 18-5 with a 1.70 ERA, was a distant third with 83.
“I thought it was going to be Yoshimi,” Asao said. “I think it should’ve been Yoshimi. He came close to winning 20 games. I told him gomennasai (I’m sorry).”
Asao’s win marks the first time Chunichi players have won the award in consecutive seasons. Dragons outfielder Kazuhiro Wada was the 2010 MVP.
“I’m not only happy for myself, but for my family and (Hiromitsu) Ochiai-kantoku,” Asao said. “I’m also thankful for the support of my teammates.”
For Uchikawa, the award caps the most successful year of his career.
After leaving the lowly BayStars in the offseason, Uchikawa helped the Hawks capture the interleague, PL and PL Climax Series titles. The Hawks then beat Asao and the Dragons in the Japan Series for their first title since 2003.
“I’m happy to have gotten the support of my teammates,” Uchikawa said. “I wouldn’t have been named MVP if I wasn’t on a good team.”
Uchikawa led NPB with a .338 average, become the second player to win batting titles in both leagues, having won in the CL in 2008 with Yokohama. He also had 12 homers and drove in 74 runs, winning the MVP award despite playing in only 114 games.
“I couldn’t play the whole season,” Uchikawa said. “That helped me maintain a high average.”
Uchikawa garnered 757 total points, finishing comfortably ahead of Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (19-5, 1.57 ERA), who had 414. Seibu Lions slugger Takeya Nakamura, who led Japan with 48 homers, was third with 249.
“I gave 120 percent in practice and worked really hard,” Uchikawa said.