Kroon relished challenge of closing out Japan Series


SAPPORO — Marc Kroon sank to his knees after the final out of the Japan Series.

Overcome with emotion, there was nothing more the Yomiuri Giants closer could do after earning a save in the 2-0 series-clinching win in Game 6 at Sapporo Dome on Saturday.

Then, immediately before the chaos of the Giants’ celebration engulfed him near the mound, Kroon pointed both index fingers toward the sky.

Only then was he at peace. Sharing perhaps the greatest moment of his career with his late grandmother, without whom none of it would’ve been possible.

“There’s a lot of things running through my mind,” Kroon said. “All the hard work I put in. I was really wishing my grandma could see me have a moment like this. But she was there with me inside and it was just an unbelievable feeling.”

While the Giants jumped around on the field, Kroon bent down on the mound, soaking it all in.

“I just bent down and told my grandmother thanks for being with me out there, kissed the ground and took off,” Kroon said. “The only thing better would have been to do it at Tokyo Dome, but you can’t beat it.”

Shinnosuke Abe won the Japan Series MVP award, but few would argue with Kroon’s role in the championship run.

He tied a Japan Series record with three saves, the last of which was a grueling four-out effort.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Dicky Gonzalez, who was the winning pitcher after Kroon’s save in Game 1. “He’s one of those pitchers that when he’s on the mound, you know you have a save for sure. I’m just so happy for him.”

In the finale, Kroon got out of the eighth inning with a 2-0 lead, only to give up a double to Tomohiro Nioka to lead off the ninth. Kroon retired the next batter, Kensuke Tanaka, but was helpless as pinch runner Kazuya Murata went to third.

Then Kroon walked Naoto Inada to put the tying run on first with Atsunori Inaba and Shinji Takahashi, the winner of the Fighting Spirit Award as the best player on the losing team, due up in the order.

“I felt I was on an island all by myself,” Kroon said. “When Nioka got that leadoff double, I was like ‘all right, I can afford to give up one but I can’t give up any more.’ ”

He could have given up one and still gotten the job done, but Kroon often states he doesn’t like giving up any runs. Period.

So with Sapporo Dome rocking as the Fighters rallied, the Giants closer stuck to his guns.

Despite having a runner on third, Kroon used his forkball liberally against the final two batters.

Kroon describes his forkball as one of the most difficult to catch, which raises the danger of a wild pitch or a passed ball. But his faith in Abe behind the plate outweighed any potential danger.

“I knew I was going to throw a fork,” Kroon said. “I struck Inaba out with a fork and once Takahashi came up there I wasn’t going to give in to him with runners in scoring position. It’s been my best pitch and I went with it.”

He got called third strikes on both batters to clinch the first championship of his career.

“This is the ultimate (moment) right here,” Kroon said. “To pitch in the last game and be on the mound with runners in scoring position up by two runs. To strike out the No. 4 batter, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Kroon had an excellent postseason for the Giants, recording five saves — including twice coming in during the eighth inning — overall.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity,” Kroon said. “Being in the right place at the right time and believing in myself.

“My teammates had my back. It just feels wonderful. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my team and the confidence of my manager.”

Igarashi eyes majors

Kyodo News

Yakult Swallows right-hander Ryota Igarashi, who has met the requirement to become a free agent to make a move overseas, said on Monday he will exercise his right as he hopes to play in the major leagues.

The period for free agents to begin filing procedures started Monday, allowing Igarashi, who has been on the top-team roster for at least nine years, to declare his intentions.

Of the 87 players who became eligible to become free agents, 66 are allowed to test the overseas market.

“I feel I have to try playing in the majors,” said Igarashi, who filed paperwork with Yakult the same day. “It’s something I seek and it has nothing to do with logic. I just really feel strongly about going.”