After the season Shinnosuke Abe had, any other ending would’ve a felt a little empty.
Abe led the Central League in batting, RBIs and on-base plus slugging percentage and finished second in home runs, all in addition to being easily the best defensive catcher in Japan.
The Giants captain didn’t need to lead his team to a Japan Series championship to validate his season, he needed the title to complete his season, to put the finishing touches on a year were he was truly a giant among men.
Fittingly, Abe drove in the deciding run, breaking a 3-3 tie with an RBI single in the seventh inning of the Giants’ 4-3 Game 6 victory.
“This is the championship Giants fans all over the country have been waiting for,” Abe said. “I would like to say ‘thank you’ to them.”
Abe was the best player in Japan for much of the season.
Coming off a slightly subpar 2011 season, the Giants backstop put numbers up not seen from a catcher since Kenji Johjima’s heyday with the Daiei Hawks.
Abe played 138 games and hit .340 with 27 home runs and 104 RBIs, which helped him win the CL Monthly MVP award for hitters three times.
His .429 on-base percentage and .565 slugging percentage were the best in Japan and he ended the year with 69 walks. Abe struck out 47 times, making him the only batter with at least 400 plate appearances to strike out fewer than 50 times.
Abe benefitted from hitting below Hisayoshi Chono and Hayato Sakamoto, the co-CL hits leaders with 147, in the Yomiuri lineup and posted a .358 average with six home runs and 73 RBIs with runners in scoring position.
Abe was the Japan Series MVP in 2009, when the Giants beat the Fighters, but said this title was sweeter than the championships he won in 2002 and 2009.
“I’m more satisfied,” Abe said. “Because you can’t imagine how much responsibility I had on my back. But I’m not fully satisfied, because once you are, you can’t improve. So I am far from fully satisfied.”
It wouldn’t have been quite as satisfying had Abe missed out on his defining moment, which was a strong possibility before the game began.
The Yomiuri catcher hit a grounder during the fifth inning of Game 3 at Sapporo Dome and felt discomfort in his right leg while trying to beat the throw to first.
He ending up leaving the game after that half inning and didn’t play the next two nights.
Abe was strapped up and ready to retake his spot behind the plate and his position as the cleanup hitter on Saturday.
“I will give the credit to our trainers,” Abe said. “They did a great job. I was thinking, there were at most two games left, and I didn’t care if (the injury) got worse. I can’t play with fear. I wasn’t thinking about tomorrow anyway, so it was fine.”
He was 1-for-3 with a walk and that all-important RBI in the finale.
“I don’t think he was healthy enough to play, but he still led the team,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.
The captain said the beating backup catcher Ken Kato took from Fighters fans in Game 5 played a role in speeding up his return to the diamond.
Kato drew the ire of many after grabbing his head and pretending to be hit with a pitch during Game 5 in Sapporo. Replays clearly showed Kato had avoided being hit, but plate umpire Koichi Yanada was sufficiently fooled and sent Kato to first base while also kicking the Fighters’ Kazuhito Tadano out of the game for throwing a dangerous pitch.
The crowd lit into Kato in his subsequent at-bats with a show of disgust rarely seen in Japanese baseball.
“I thought it would be hard on Kato because he could get booed again,” Abe said. “I felt pretty good when I warmed up during the day, and although our trainers told me not to do too much, I was still going to do too much.
“I told them, I can crouch, so I would go. It paid off and I was able to play.”
The prospect of further injury didn’t deter Abe from the task at hand.
“I told myself, I shouldn’t worry about it too much,” Abe said. “If I were to get hurt, it would’ve just been fate, and you don’t know if you get to put yourself in this position very many times.”
Abe and his teammates had a long night planned following Saturday’s victory. As for the immediate future, the Giants catcher wasn’t ready to commit to anything just yet.
“Maybe I’ll have a fever and be in bed the whole day,” he joked. “We’ll stay up late tonight, so I’ll sleep well and spend time with my family and kids like a regular dad since I haven’t been able to do that for a long time.”