Neither of their teams made the Central League Climax Series, but the 2007 season has been a pivotal one for Yakult Swallows slugger Alex Ramirez and Yokohama BayStars reliever Marc Kroon. The contracts of both expire at the end of the current dragging out season, and there is doubt whether either club will be able to afford to keep these all-star players and vibrant personalities.

News photo
Alex Ramirez became to first foreigner to reach 200 hits in a season and leads the Central League in

Ramirez just turned 33, has already played seven years for Yakult and is concluding the best half-season of his career which has got to be one of the best three-month streaks by anyone in Japanese baseball history. Kroon, 34, is closing out his third stellar season with the ‘Stars, and it’s been his best.

Both seem to enjoy playing for their current teams, and it would be strange seeing “Rami” doing his post-home run performance with a team mascot other than the Swallows birdie.

Kroon is at home in Yokohama. He loves the city, the fans, his teammates, coaches and manager and does not want to leave but expects to be paid on a scale with the other ace closers in Japan. You can’t blame him.

Ramirez has the Central League RBI title wrapped up with 121 through games of Oct. 5. He also became the first foreigner to mark 200 hits in a season and, at last look, he had hit 29 home runs and was still leading teammate Norichika Aoki and the rest of the CL in batting with a .345 average after winning the league MVP award in July, August and September.

Kroon racked up his career high 29th save on Oct. 3 against the Yomiuri Giants, but he could have had 40. He missed three save opportunities in April when he returned to the U.S. for the birth of his daughter, and there were nine times when the BayStars were in the eighth inning with a one-, two- or three-run lead, but scored in the eighth — or top of the ninth — to pad the lead to four or more runs and erase a save chance.

That is not to say Kroon doesn’t want his team to score insurance runs; just that he was ready to go to the rescue when the situation changed.

Marc’s goal for this season was 30 saves which he can still get, as Yokohama will play through Oct. 9, and his eventual target is the foreigners’ career save record of 120 marked by former Chunichi Dragons and Yokohama right-hander Eddie Gaillard. Kroon has 82 saves in Japan.

The answer to the question of where Ramirez and Kroon will be playing in 2008 promises to be one of the most interesting topics of the coming off-season.

The BayStars and Swallows will wrap up the 2007 regular campaign with games at Yokohama Stadium on Monday (Sports Day), Oct. 8, with a 3 p.m. start, and Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 6 p.m. These are make-ups of that scheduled Sept. 30 doubleheader that was rained out in Yokohama.

Meanwhile, the Pacific League’s Climax Series begins with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks at the Chiba Lotte Marines on Oct. 8 at 1 p.m.

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Turning to the major leagues, how would you rate the season of Boston Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka? His numbers for the regular year included 15 wins, 12 losses, a 4.40 earned run average and 201 strikeouts in 204 2/3 innings.

I said before the season I thought Dice-K would win between 15 and 20, but his loss total should not have reached double figures, and that ERA is much higher than expected. Maybe 3.40 would be acceptable, but I thought he would have posted something more like 2.40.

He should have gotten a few more victories in games where he left on the winning side but the bullpen blew it, and there were other outings where he lost his control and did not appear to be the “Boy Wonder” we knew with the Seibu Lions.

Matsuzaka’s final regular season game was a good one; he registered a crucial 5-2 win over the Minnesota Twins that clinched a tie for the American League East title for the Bosox on Sept. 28.

The Red Sox’s own Web site called Dice-K’s season a “roller coaster.”

New York Mets fans, meanwhile, will be in shock all winter after the collapse that saw them lose a seven-game lead with 17 to play and miss the playoffs.

A friend and fan, Molly Reed from Nashville, sent me a funny e-mail attachment with a “New York Mets-to-New York Yankees Fan Conversion Application,” and the U.S. night-TV talk show comedians had a good time with this one.

Jay Leno on NBC’s “Tonight Show” referred to the Mets team physician as a “Dr. Heimlich” and, on the “Late Show” on CBS, David Letterman’s Top 10 List of Oct. 4 reeled off 10 reasons why the Mets will not be in the World Series, including “The manager leaves in the seventh inning to beat the traffic.”

Although they got off to a poor start against the Colorado Rockies in the National League Division Series, I’ve got to be happy for manager Charlie Manuel of the National League East champion Philadelphia Phillies. Old Japan Hands will remember Manuel during his playing days here with the Yakult Swallows and Kintetsu Buffaloes, 1976-1981.

Even Older Hands will recall when the Phillies were on the opposite end of a huge turnaround in 1964. That club, led (misled?) by manager Gene Mauch and star players Richie Allen, Johnny Callison, Jim Bunning and Chris Short, squandered a seven-game lead with only 10 to play, and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to win the National League pennant and the World Series.

The double play combination on that ’64 Phils team consisted of second baseman Cookie Rojas and shortstop Bobby Wine, and that era is fondly referred to by Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully as “the days of Wine and Rojas.”

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at wayne@JapanBall.com

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