FUKUOKA — It doesn’t get any better than this. Seventh game of the Japan Series with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and the Hanshin Tigers.

The Hawks trying to make it a seven-game sweep for the home team for the first time in J.S. history; the Tigers attempting to put one in the win column for the visitors.

Both teams followed the pattern of strong left-handed pitching that saw southpaws winning the previous six games. Daiei started rookie lefty Tsuyoshi Wada; Hanshin went with American portsider Trey Moore who pitched brilliantly in Game 3 at Koshien Stadium on Oct. 22.

Moore had told me on Sept. 21 he doubted he’d be on the mound in the Japan Series following an inconsistent second-half performance during the regular season. But there he was, given the ball to start the most important game of the year.

“You’ll see all the left-handers for us tonight if we need them,” said Hanshin coach Tom O’Malley prior to the game. “Moore, (Kei) Igawa, (Makoto) Yoshino, (Tsuyoshi) Shimoyanagi and (Jeff) Williams.” An exception might be a brief appearance by middle reliever Jerrod Riggan.

Several players from both teams went into the final game with a chance for the Japan Series MVP award.

Favorites prior to the contest were Hanshin slugger Tomoaki Kanemoto who, despite hitting only .227, had four home runs, and Daiei lefty (what else?) pitcher Toshiya Sugiuchi, 2-0 with a miniscule 0.60 ERA.

Also with a chance for the 2 million yen cash prize and a new car were Moore (if he had had a spectacular outing but it didn’t happen) and Australian closer Jeff Williams, who won Game 3 and saved Game 4 for the Tigers.

For Daiei, Kenji Jojima, who had a pair of solo homers in Monday’s game and Tadahito Iguchi who had a two-run shot. DH Julio Zuleta with a homer and a .417 batting average and left fielder Pedro Valdes with three home runs and .375 batting average, were in the running.

Foreign players have won Japan Series MVP recognition on six occasions in the past: Joe Stanka of the Nankai Hawks in 1964, Jim Lyttle of the Hiroshima Carp in 1980, Randy Bass for the Tigers in 1985, Orestes Destrade of the Seibu Lions in 1990. O’Malley for the Yakult Swallows in 1995 and Troy Neel for the Orix BlueWave in 1996.

Surprisingly, oldtimers such as Bass did not return to Japan for the Series. Also not seen were major league scouts who might have come to check out Hawks’ second baseman Iguchi and catcher Jojima.

Iguchi is expected to be “posted” by the Hawks and be made available to MLB teams for next season. Jojima could be headed for North America as Japan’s first catcher in the majors a few years down the road.

Bass is expected in Dai Nippon for a Hanshin-Yomiuri Giants retired players game in Shizuoka Nov. 22, and the scouts should be here next week to watch the Asian Olympic qualifying games at Sapporo Dome.

They missed a super Japan Series, the best I’ve seen since the Yomiuri Giants came back from a 3-0 deficit to win four straight and defeat the Kintetsu Buffaloes in 1989.

Also missing the Series production were Fuji TV and its affiliates who were prohibited from telecasting games because comedians on a network variety show several weeks prior to the Series ridiculed Daiei manager Sadaharu Oh in a skit involving a toilet.

Hawks officials complained, leading to a denial of the rights for Fuji to cover games. What a shame and what a shame.

Win or lose, Hawks pitcher Brandon Knight predicted his team will be back in the Series in 2004. “This team has too much talent, even if we lose Iguchi,” said Knight.

Hanshin’s future is uncertain with the expected retirement of manager Senichi Hoshino, but don’t be surprised if these two teams meet again in the 2004 Japan Series.

Great show, guys.

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