Shinnosuke Abe led the Yomiuri Giants to the Central League pennant, nearly won the Triple Crown, and will more than likely be named CL MVP in a few weeks.
His final swing of the season? Just the hit that helped deliver another Japan Series title to the Kyojin‘s already crowded trophy case.
Abe drove in the tiebreaking run in the seventh and the Yomiuri bullpen took it from there, as the Giants won the Japan Series with a 4-3 victory over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Game 6 on Saturday night at Tokyo Dome.
“Today we played a hard fought and close game,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “It was a fitting climax to the Japan Series, where the outcome was not decided until the end.”
The Giants won the series 4-2 to claim their record 22nd title. Tetsuya Utsumi, the winning pitcher in Games 1 and 5, was named Japan Series MVP.
“I didn’t expect to be chosen MVP of the Japan Series,” Utsumi said.
“It’s a great honor for me.”
Abe and teammates Hisayoshi Chono and John Bowker were given Outstanding Player awards. Nippon Ham’s Atsunori Inaba was the recipient of the Fighting Spirit award, given to the top player from the losing team.
The probable regular-season MVP, Abe, hit just .258 at the plate during the postseason, something which was probably all but forgotten after his clutch hit in the seventh.
“It was fitting Abe got the game-winning hit,” Hara said. “He is our team leader and had a great season.”
Chono began the inning with a walk and advanced to second on Tetsuya Matsumoto’s sacrifice bunt. Hayato Sakamoto struck out, but Abe’s run-scoring single up the middle off Yuya Ishii broke a 3-3 tie.
Abe was playing for the first time since being pulled out of the fourth inning of Game 3 after feeling discomfort in his right leg. He was retired in his first two at-bats and walked in his third, before his big hit.
The Giants won everything put in front of them this year. The Kyojin became the first Central League team to win the interleague crown and went on the claim the CL pennant by 10½ games.
Yomiuri fell behind 3-1 against the Chunichi Dragons in the CL Climax Series final stage, but won three straight to punch its ticket for the Japanese version of the Fall Classic.
The Kyojin won the first two games of the Japan Series, before losing Games 3 and 4 at Sapporo Dome. Yomiuri rallied behind Utsumi and a strong offensive showing to win Game 5, setting the stage for Saturday’s celebration.
“The word ‘team’ should be stressed,” Hara said. “We played as a team. I used many players and different lineups and it all came together.”
In an interesting coincidence, the San Francisco Giants won this year’s World Series, marking the first time the two clubs, which share the same colors and nickname — though little else as Yomiuri identifies more with the New York Yankees — won their respective championships in the same season.
Co-Central League hits leaders Chono and Sakamoto continued their strong performances at the plate.
Chono finished 2-for-3, and Sakamoto also recorded a pair of hits.
Chono, who finished the series hitting .375, hit a solo homer, his second of the series, in the second inning. Both of Chono’s home runs came against Fighters starter Masaru Takeda.
Kenji Yano was 1-for-4 and opened the scoring with a two-run single in bottom of the first. Yano’s hit turned out to be a good omen for the Kyojin, as the team that scored first won all six games of the series.
“Because Chono and Abe were playing through pain, we wanted to get on the board first,” Yano said, referencing the leg injuries the pair suffered earlier in the series.
Kyosuke Takagi retired the only batter he faced and earned the series-clinching win in relief. Scott Mathieson threw a scoreless eighth, and Tetsuya Yamaguchi walked a batter and allowed a hit in the ninth, but kept Nippon Ham from scoring and picked up the save.
Hirokazu Sawamura got the start for Yomiuri and was cruising along before allowing a three-run homer to Sho Nakata in the sixth. That snapped a streak of 19 scoreless postseason innings for Sawamura.
“I was trying to pitch inside but wasn’t able to locate the pitch where I wanted,” Sawamura said. “It went a little high and he didn’t miss it.”
For Nippon Ham, the loss represented another recent autumn disappointment for the Fighters. Since moving to Hokkaido in 2004, the team has won at a near-prolific rate in the Pacific League, capturing four pennants and winning the PL Climax Series on four occasions
That success hasn’t carried over to the Japan Series. Nippon Ham beat the Chunichi Dragons for the title in 2006 but has now lost in their last three appearances.
Asked to give a message to the Giants’ fans, Hara flipped the script and spoke to the opposing team’s supporters.
“I have a message for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters fans,” Hara said.
“Your team fought a hard fight and all the Fighters players and manager (Hideki) Kuriyama had a great season. We beat a great team.”
Nakata finished 1-for-3 and drove in all the Fighters’ runs with his homer. Yoshio Itoi was 2-for-5, and Eiichi Koyano finished 1-for-3 to end the series with a .348 batting average.
Takeda lasted two innings and allowed three runs on four hits. The left-hander has lost four straight Japan Series starts and was in line to add a fifth defeat to that list before Nakata’s home run.
“I feel sorry that I caused problems for the team because I wasn’t good enough,” Takeda said.
In the end, the Giants were just too much for the Fighters.
“We took it all the way to the end and brought home the championship,” Hara said. “To our players staff and fans, congratulations.”