November 9th, 2008
Saitama Seibu Lions 3
Yomiuri Giants 2
The Saitama Seibu Lions came back from an 0-2 deficit to defeat the Yomiuri Giants in the deciding game seven of the 2008 Japan Series Championship.
It was Saitama’s first Japan Series championship since 2004 when it beat the Chunichi Dragons in seven games. Saitama is the winningest franchise in NPB over the past 30 years as far as Japan Series titles are concerned. 2008 is their 13th title against eight losses overall (including three by Seibu precursor, Nishitetsu). The Lions won five Japan Series titles during the 80’s, three during the 90’s, and this is now their second title so far this decade. From 1986 to 1992, in fact, Saitama won the title six times (they did not appear in the 1989 series which Yomiuri eventually won).
Yomiuri is the winningest Japan Series contender of all time, but they have not had nearly the amount of success as the Lions over the last three decades. They are tied with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows for number of Japan Series wins during that time with five. Yomiuri last appeared in a Japan Series Championship in 2002 when it beat the Saitama Seibu Lions in four straight games.
Yomiuri now has 20 Japan Series titles against 11 losses.
With 14 year veteran, Fumiya Nishiguchi, pitching for the visiting Lions, Yomiuri got off to a quick start. With the bases loaded, Yomiuri scored one run on a Nishiguchi wild pitch in the first inning.
In the second inning, Yomiuri shortstop, Hayato Sakamoto, drove a Nishiguchi meatball into the left field stands. 2-0 Yomiuri.
Nishiguchi (2 Hits; 3 K’s; 2 BB’s; 1 wild pitch; 2 earned runs; 9.00 ERA) was pulled after the second inning, and Lions first year manager, Hisanobu Watanabe, paraded out most of the rest of his starting pitchers in a desperate attempt to get some stability on the mound. It worked last night with Kishi, so why not try it again, right?
Well, stability is what he got. Starters Kazuhisa Ishii and Hideaki Wakui, both coming off of lackluster performances earlier in the series, pitched two innings of perfect baseball each. Then Tomoki Hoshino pitched a perfect seventh and claimed the win in the process. Finally, closer Alex Graman came on for the last two innings and retired all six batters he faced. After getting four runners on base during the first two innings, Yomiuri was completely shut down for the last seven.
Trailing 2-0 in the top of the fifth, and following two excellent innings by Ishii (including 2 strikeouts), Hiram Bocachica replaced the lefty in the lineup with two outs and nobody on. Yomiuri starter, Tetsuya Utsumi, had been very sharp up until that point, but he left one hanging a little too high up in the zone and Bocachica drilled it into the orange people sitting in left. 2-1 Yomiuri.
After two unbelievable innings by Wakui (including four strikeouts), and a solid seventh care of Hoshino, it was time for the Lions batters to start dealing with Yomiuri’s impressive set-up duo of Daisuke Ochi and Kiyoshi Toyoda.
After escaping from a pinch in the seventh, Ochi came on again in the eighth, and he promptly plunked Saitama second baseman, Yasuyuki Kataoka, with some chin music. Kataoka immediately stole second, and he was then bunted over to third by outfielder Takumi Kuriyama.
Kataoka scored on a weak grounder to third by Hiroyuki Nakajima. 2-2.
Then the cracks in Ochi’s armor finally started to show. He walked the next two batters he faced and gave up an rbi single to first baseman and Japan Series sensation, Hiroshi Hirao. 3-2 Saitama.
Ochi, pitching in his fifth game of the series, gave up two runs off of two hits. He also had two strikeouts, three walks and one hit batter. His Japan Series ERA rose to a still respectable 2.35 while taking the loss for the home team.
Toyoda also had a bit of a hiccup when he gave up his first Japan Series hit in recent memory. Pinch hitter, Shougo Akada, ended up on third base after hitting one to within about half of a meter of the top of the wall in right. (That’s why they don’t open the outfield doors when the visiting team is batting.)
Toyoda escaped from the inning without further damage, however, and then it was up to Graman to take the mound again and work through the business end of the Yomiuri lineup.
First, Kimura Takuya, who scored on the wild pitch in the first, struck out swinging. Then Ogasawara grounded out to first base.
With two outs, and trailing by one run, Alex Ramirez stepped up to the plate.
Ground ball to shortstop. Soft toss to first. Championship over.
Saitama won the series 4-3, and like Yomiuri, the team played without the help of some of their bigger bats. G.G. Satou, Craig Brazell and Toru Hosokawa were injured for much or all of this series.
All in all, four Lions batters reached base twice in this game. Kataoka, Nakajima, Nakamura and Hirao were the biggest headaches for Yomiuri in that respect.
Saitama cleanup hitter, Nakamura, had an interesting series at the plate. He was hitless for the fifth time tonight, but drew another two walks. He went only 3-24 in the series (.125 BA), but all of his hits were home runs. He drove in seven rbi’s with those three dingers, and he also drew six walks.
Hiroshi Hirao, on the other hand, had an unequivocally stellar series. He went 8-14 at the plate with two home runs, six rbi’s and one plunking for a .571 batting average. He didn’t play in the first and third games, and came on as a sub in the second and fifth, but he had an impact in most every game he played. His OBP was .600 during this series.
Nakajima also had a solid series. He was very good on defense and went 8-25 from the plate with two jacks, six rbi’s, two plunkings and two walks. His .414 OBP is very respectable against pitching as strong as he saw.
But the winner of the Japan Series MVP was the pitcher who won games four and six, Takayuki Kishi.
He started game four and pitched a complete-game shutout on November fifth before being called in to pitch 5.2 innings of relief last night (Nov. 9th). He threw 147 pitches in game four and another 91 in game six. In 14.2 innings of work Kishi gave up 10 hits and two walks against 16 strikeouts. His Japan Series ERA is 0.00.
Congratulations to the Saitama Seibu Lions and all of their fans on a great season and a remarkable Japan Series Championship victory!