Tomoya Mori sent the fans at Seibu Dome into hysterics with his sayonara double in April. Ko Shimozuru did the same in July with a home run at Mazda Stadium.
There aren’t many things in baseball more exciting or dramatic than a sayonara hit. Of the 60 that occurred in Japanese baseball this season, Mori and Shimozuru were deemed to have come up with the best of the best.
Mori, the Lions’ catcher, and Shimozuru, an infielder for the Hiroshima Carp, were named winners of the Sky Perfect Dramatic Sayonara of the Year Award for their respective leagues on Friday.
Mori’s hit came against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on April 18. The Lions entered the eighth inning trailing 8-0 and scored seven runs during that frame. Sosuke Genda and Hideto Asamura singled to start the ninth and Hotaka Yamakawa drew a walk to bring Mori to the plate.
He connected on a two-run double to give Seibu a 9-8 victory.
“I think that game really left an impression,” Mori said. “We were down by eight runs in the eighth and were able to come back. I think that gave the team a lot of energy and I think that game helped us go on to win the pennant. I’m happy I could contribute.”
Lions players have won the last two awards in the Pacific League.
“(Takumi) Kuriyama-san won last year, and I won this year, so I’m happy,” Mori said.
Shimozuru was honored for his heroics on July 20 against the Yomiuri Giants. The game was tied 8-8 when Yomiuri’s Kazuma Okamoto connected on a solo homer in the top of the 10th. Shimozuru came to the plate in the bottom half with Ryosuke Kikuchi on base and the Carp down to their final out. He connected on a pitch from reliever Scott Mathieson and hit a game-ending opposite-field home run.
“It was a really important game for us, so I’m happy we could get the win,” Shimozuru said.
Shimozuru’s award gave Carp fans a little something to cheer about on the day they found out Yoshihiro Maru, who was named the CL MVP for the second straight season on Tuesday, was leaving the team to sign with the Yomiuri Giants as a free agent.
“It was his decision, so I want to support him,” Shimozuru said.
The Carp have won the past three CL pennants and Shimozuru isn’t expecting much of a drop-off.
“Just because Maru isn’t there, you can’t say we’re weak,” he said. “We’re still a team. I’m just thinking about doing my best and giving my all and becoming an everyday player.”
Mori and the Lions will also be missing some pieces when they try to defend the PL title in 2019.
Second baseman Hideto Asamura, the runner-up in the PL MVP voting, has joined the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles as a free agent, while catcher Ginjiro Sumitani has signed with the Giants. Ace Yusei Kikuchi is expected to be posted to the major leagues next week.
“I’m going to do my best to help fill the void for everyone,” Mori said.
The pair each received a trophy and ¥2 million as prizes.
“I’m going to put (the prize money) in my savings account,” Shimozuru said. Mori said he hadn’t thought about it yet.
Former NPB great Hiromitsu Ochiai, who was also on hand, gave the Lions star something to think about, saying that with his swing he thought Mori could reach 40 home runs. Mori could only laugh at the comment, noting he has yet to hit even 20 in a season.
Mori, who hit a career high 17 homers in 2015 and 16 this year, was later asked about his goals for 2019.
“First of all, I want play 100 games as a catcher. I also want to hit .300,” Mori said. “Oh, and I guess hit 40 home runs,” he added with a laugh.