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Abe continues to be steadying force for Giants

by Jason Coskrey

The Yomiuri Giants have won the last 37 times Shinnosuke Abe has homered at Tokyo Dome.

That’s an impressive streak, even if it is aided by a number of circumstances, not least of which the fact the Kyojin are normally very good at home. Yomiuri is 19-5-1 in home games this season.

The Giants’ run of good fortune when Abe goes yard began July 4, 2010, against the Hanshin Tigers. Abe homered against Tigers starter Casey Fossum in his first at-bat of that game, a 10-2 Giants victory.

Abe’s home runs have come at varying times during the streak. Some have been of the game-tying or go-ahead variety, while others have come in garbage time. A few have even been sayonara shots. Not all of his home runs have represented the deciding blow, but they’ve all in their own way contributed to the bottom line, which is winning.

As can be gleaned from all the hardware they’ve collected through the years, the Giants do a lot of winning, but recent iterations of the team would probably do less of it if not for Abe’s steadying presence, which brings us back to the streak.

It’s a nice aberration that will be the answer to a trivia question one day, but overall means little. However, the underlying, enduring consistency of it is a great illustration of Abe’s worth to the Giants.

Believe or not, Yomiuri tends to win when Abe doesn’t homer, but his imprint is on most of the team’s successes in some way or another.

His bat is his most obvious asset, but the pitching staff also marches to the 33-year-old’s beat behind the plate.

In addition to being among NPB’s most feared hitters, Abe is Japan’s premier defensive backstop and his value extends off the field in how seriously he takes being the team captain.

Last season with the Central League champion Giants on the brink of getting swept out of the Central League Climax Series, Abe called a team meeting to get everyone on track. He came up with the winning hit that same day, and with the momentum firmly behind them, the Kyojin went on to win the series. The Giants later claimed the Japan Series title, with Abe driving in the deciding run in the series-clinching sixth game.

Like the streak, Abe has been the picture of consistency. He’s played at least 100 games in each season since 2004, never finishing with an average below .271. Overall since 2004 (including 43 games this season), Abe has a .294 average with 261 home runs and 76 RBIs.

He was up to his usual tricks over the weekend, helping the first-place Giants sweep the Seibu Lions in a two-game interleague series.

Abe hit a go-ahead three homer in a win on Friday, and guided rookie Tomoyuki Sugano through nine innings of one-run ball in another victory on Saturday.

Saturday’s series finale also featured an Abe home run, which stretched the streak to 37 wins in home games with an Abe homer.

“His home run was big for us,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said on Saturday. “I want it (the streak) to continue.”