Everyone understood this was the end of the line for Hiroyuki Nakajima.
The Seibu Lions’ 3-2 loss in Game 3 of the Pacific League Climax Series first stage not only ended the team’s season, but also probably ended Nakajima’s Lions career.
The All-Star shortstop is likely headed to the major leagues next season. Nakajima stopped briefly to speak with reporters before getting into his car after the game, but revealed nothing about his immediate plans.
“I can’t say much right now,” Nakajima said. “The club asked me not to talk about it.”
The Lions posted Nakajima after last season, but he could not come to terms on a contract with the New York Yankees, who won the lottery for his rights.
A per the posting rules, Nakajima was forced to return to Japan for another season before attempting a move to the majors. Nakajima has since fulfilled the requirements for international free agency, making him free to negotiate with the team, or teams, of his choosing.
A number of major league clubs have scouted the Hyogo Prefecture native, who has a career .302 average with 162 home runs and 738 RBIs in 11 professional seasons, all with Seibu.
Nakajima finished this season with a .311 average, second in the PL, 13 home runs and 74 RBIs. He was hampered by a back injury down the stretch, but returned to start all three of the Lions’ Climax Series games.
“I’ve got pains everywhere, so I want to take some time off,” Nakajima said.
In Nakajima’s first two at-bats Monday, the team eschewed his usual walkup music for the Korean pop hit “Gangnam Style” and displayed a short video on the scoreboard with the words “Nakaji Style” shown alongside images of the Lions star.
With the Lions trailing and the crowd sensing the end may be near, Nakajima was given a loud ovation in his final two plate appearances.
“We all intended to go to Sapporo (for the final stage of the Climax Series), so it’s a shame that didn’t happen,” Nakajima said.
“We got off to a bad start (during the regular season) but were able to come back to compete for the pennant, so that was good.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.