Everyone at Tokyo Dome knew what Yomiuri Giants public address announcer Daisuke Takahashi was going say. They just needed to hear him say it one more time, one last time.
“Catcher, Abe Shinnosuke,” Takahashi, voice rising to a scream, announced as the Giants took the field.
Shinnosuke Abe, one of the most beloved players in team history, officially announced this season would be his last on Wednesday. Which made Friday’s game, a 6-4 win over the Yokohama BayStars, not only the end of the regular-season home slate, but suddenly the end of an era.
Abe went out in style, donning the catcher’s mask as a starter for the first time in over four seasons and hitting a game-tying solo homer, the 406th of his career, in the fourth inning.
“I just feel grateful,” Abe said. “Thank you. DeNA fans, manager (Alex) Ramirez, the opposing pitchers, I’m just grateful to everyone who was a part of this game. This is the best.”
Hayato Sakamoto, who took over as team captain after Abe’s tenure from 2007 to 2014, also homered in the fourth inning, reaching 40 home runs for the first time in his career.
“Today was the day I hit my 40th in my dreams,” Sakamoto said. “I’m just really happy Abe-san and I could hit home runs together.”
Abe had one 40-homer year during his career, knocking out 44 in 2010.
“It’s not an easy number to reach, even going from 39 to 40,” Abe said.
Ginjiro Sumitani helped Abe say goodbye as a winner with a tiebreaking grand slam in the fifth.
With one game left in his 19th regular season, Abe, who plans to play for the newly crowned Central League champions during the postseason, will retire as one of the greatest catchers in NPB history.
Abe was MVP of the 2012 regular season and of the 2009 Japan Series. He made nine Best Nine squads and earned four Golden Gloves. The 40-year-old currently has 1,285 career RBIs.
He spent his entire career with the Giants, playing a role on eight pennant winners and three Japan Series champions, with a chance to add one more to the latter this season.
The running theme of the night was simply: “Thank You Shinnosuke.” That message was displayed on the video board during batting practice and on signboards, along with Abe’s No. 10 and a photo, fans were given.
His walkup music, “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire, was played early and often, providing the soundtrack to the night.
In the first inning, Abe got his wish of forming a battery with pitcher Scott Mathieson again, with the Canadian reliever making his first NPB start in his 421st game.
“It was an honor to get to pitch to him and be asked to pitch,” Mathieson said. Especially to get to be the last pitcher to pitch to him as a catcher. He still looked very comfortable back there. He still had it. So that’s amazing.”
Hirokazu Sawamura followed Mathieson to the mound in the second. Abe and Sawamura are both Chuo University products and, instead of the normal pop music, the Chuo University song played as Sawamura warmed up, prompting Abe to sneak an amused look over his shoulder.
The two then pretended to have some miscommunication, with Abe calling time and walking out to the mound. The scene was reminiscent of Game 2 of the 2012 Japan Series, when Abe walked out and smacked Sawamura on the back of the head. This time, Abe raised his hand and smiled as he went in for a handshake instead.
The veteran then moved from catcher to first base.
“I thought it worked out well,” Mathieson said. “He got to throw the ball to second, he got to do everything behind the plate and it still worked out as a good inning. Personally, he’s the best catcher I’ve gotten to pitch to, it was just awesome to be able to do it one more time. It was an honor.”
Abe also shared a moment at the plate with BayStars slugger Jose Lopez, a former teammate, and was showered with applause with every movement. His first manager, NPB legend Shigeo Nagashima, was also at the game. There were flowers and messages sent from various well-wishers, including former teammates, Tetsuya Utsumi and Hisayoshi Chono.
When Abe was lifted from the game in the top of the eighth, the Giants players came out of the dugout to greet him as the BayStars lined up in front of their own.
Abe tipped his cap to the crowd and bowed to the Yokohama players before leaving the field.
After the game, the crowd chanted his named as he tipped his cap again.
“I feel really grateful for all of the Shinnosuke calls,” Abe said.
Yokohama got most of its runs on homers. Neftali Soto increased his CL lead over Sakamoto with his 43rd of the year, a two-run shot in the third. Lopez added a solo homer in the ninth and Daisuke Nakai had an RBI groundout in the same frame.
Yomiuri will play its final regular-season game on Saturday at Jingu Stadium. The Kyojin will then host the six-game Climax Series Final Stage beginning Oct. 9. Yomiuri starts the series with a 1-0 advantage as the home team.
Dragons defeat Carp
The Chunichi Dragons denied the Hiroshima Carp a much-needed win on Friday in a 4-1 victory over the third-place Central League club hoping to clinch a spot in the Climax Series.
Kris Johnson (11-8) was solid through the first six innings of the Carp’s last regular season game, but he yielded a go-ahead RBI double to Takuya Kinoshita and a two-run homer to Naomichi Donoue in back-to-back hits in the seventh.
The loss leaves room for the Hanshin Tigers, who trail the Carp by a game, to edge Hiroshima out of third place if the Tigers win their remaining three games.
Chunichi starter Shinnosuke Ogasawara (3-1) set the pace at Mazda Stadium, allowing a run over six innings while giving up six hits and no walks.
Ryosuke Hirata drove in Dayan Viciedo in the second to give the Dragons an early lead before Ryuhei Matsuyama doubled and equalized for Hiroshima on a wild pitch in the fifth, but the Carp offense failed to string together chances in the next three frames.
In the top of the ninth, veteran Hiroshima outfielder Masato Akamatsu came off the bench and played in his first top-team game in three years, appearing briefly in center field.
Toshiya Okada struck out the side to close out the win and record his 13th save.
After the game, the Carp held a retirement ceremony for Akamatsu, who is retiring due to an ongoing battle with stomach cancer.
The 37-year-old found it difficult to return to Hiroshima’s first team since announcing his diagnosis in late 2016, shortly after helping the Carp win their first league title in 25 years.
Buffaloes 5, Fighters 1
At Sapporo Dome, Taisuke Yamaoka (13-4) threw his second complete game of the season and limited the opposition to a run, scattering nine hits while striking out seven in Orix’s victory over Hokkaido Nippon Ham.