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The atmosphere was very strange at Tokyo Dome last Wednesday, Oct. 5, as the Yomiuri Giants closed out a dismal 2005 season and two years of something between mediocrity and futility under the leadership of manager Tsuneo Horiuchi.

Consistent with most of the Giants’ game results this year, Yomiuri lost, 4-1 to the Hiroshima Carp, on an evening filled with nostalgia, emotion, tears and sadness, and almost enough flowers to fill a funeral hall.

The night game began at 6 p.m., but the drama started four hours earlier when Horiuchi spoke to the press at Big Egg, confirming it would be his final day as the Kyojin skipper and accepting responsibility for the club’s fifth-place finish in the Central League after posting its worst record in team history.

At 3 p.m., Hara told the media at Tokyo’s Palace Hotel he would be accepting an offer to return as Giants manager, giving a brief explanation about how he plans to revive the sagging franchise he guided to a Japan Series championship in 2002.

About 3:30 p.m., attention focused on the Tokyo Dome field as three retiring veteran players emerged to practice for what would be the final at-bats of their active careers.

Infielders Daisuke Motoki and Koji Goto and catcher Shuji Nishiyama had been told they no longer fit into the team’s future plans and were being put out to pasture.

For Motoki, 33, the realization his 15-year career in a Giants uniform was coming to an end was especially difficult to accept. He had come out of high school in 1990, was drafted by the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks but insisted he would play only for the Giants, so he sat out a year until Yomiuri could draft him for 1991.

The Orix Buffaloes are said to have interest in Motoki who can play all four infield positions, but he decided to end his playing days in the uniform of his beloved Giants.

Horiuchi extended Motoki the courtesy of putting him in the starting lineup in that final game, batting fifth, playing first base. He went 0-for-4.

Goto, over the years a great clutch hitter, utility player and a mood-maker and cheerleader on the bench, spent the entire 2005 season on the Yomiuri farm team which surely hurt the team’s morale.

Catcher Nishiyama joined the Giants only this season after being traded from the Carp, so it was fitting he made his final trip to the batter’s box against Hiroshima for whom he played 19 years.

He and Goto pinch hit late in the game. Nishiyama struck out; Goto flied to center.

In typical Japanese tradition, all three retirees were presented floral bouquets by their children and, following the game, they circled the Tokyo Dome perimeter to one final cheer and a flow of tears from the Giants’ fans.

Notable, too, was the pre-game lineup exchange at home plate between Horiuchi and Carp manager Koji Yamamoto who is also retiring, and Giants player rep Yoshinobu Takahashi gave flowers to Hiroshima infielder Kenjiro Nomura, also playing his final game at Tokyo Dome.

Regarding the Horiuchi-Hara situation and the Giants lousy season, “Baseball Bullet-In” reader William Elliott wrote:

What could owner (Tsuneo) Watanabe and manager Hara have possibly been thinking in appointing a mediocre second baseman — Horiuchi — as manager of the Giants?

Aging divas such as (Kimiyasu) Kudo, (Masumi) Kuwata, (Akira) Eto and (Kazuhiro) Kiyohara should have been eased out early on to make way for promising younger players.

In fact, had the faded chaps truly had the status of the Giants at heart, they would themselves have advised Horiuchi to do just that. But evidently all except Kiyohara are going to continue suiting up, serving as the tatters on a sorry flag.

I am not sure where you got your background information on now-ex-Giants manager Horiuchi, Elliott-san, but to set the record straight, he was not a mediocre second baseman, but one of the best pitchers the Giants ever had.

He was the ace of the staff for much of his career which spanned 1966-1983. His lifetime record is 203-139 with a 3.27 ERA, and his best season 1972 when he went 26-9 with a 2.91 ERA.

Hara certainly did not have a hand in appointing Horiuchi as manager to succeed him in 2003; it was strictly a decision made by Watanabe and the Yomiuri front office.

It appears Kiyohara will be heading back to the Pa League, most likely to Orix.

Kudo, even at 42 years of age, was one of Yomiuri’s best hurlers. In fact, he led the club with 11 wins, and he will be back at 43 in 2006.

The future of Kuwata who was 0-7 this season, and Eto who batted .172 with no home runs, remains uncertain.

To be sure, Hara has his work cut out for him, and we’ll see if he tries to pick up the pieces of the shattered Giants mug cup and put it back together, or sweep them away and start with a new one.

The Pacific League will revive its post-season East-West All-Star Game after skipping it last year because of the turmoil in Japanese baseball and uncertainty about whether there would even be a Pacific League.

The 2005 game will be played on Nov. 3, a Japanese national holiday, at Kusanagi Stadium in Shizuoka. Game time is noon.

The East team consists of the Chiba Lotte Marines, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

The Seibu Lions move from the East to the West, joining the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Orix Buffaloes.

Fighters manager Trey Hillman will pilot the East squad, assisted by Bobby Valentine of the Marines and a yet-unnamed representative from the Eagles.

Seibu skipper Tsutomu Ito will direct the West players, helped by Sadaharu Oh of SoftBank and a coach (to be designated) from Orix.

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wsgraczyk@yahoo.com

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