Even the straight-faced Hideaki Wakui had to crack a smile at winning the Sawamura Award on Monday.
Clearing all seven benchmarks needed to claim the award, the Saitama Seibu Lions ace was named Japan's top pitcher for the first time in his five-year career.
Wakui, 23, led the Pacific League with 16 wins, and a Japan best 211-2/3 innings pitched and 11 complete games, which included four shutouts, in 27 starts.
The right-hander's 199 strikeouts were a career best, as was his .727 winning percentage and 2.30 ERA, the second best in the league.
Standards for Sawamura honorees include at least: 15 wins, 200 innings pitched, a 2.50 ERA, 150 strikeouts, 10 complete games, 25 starts and a .600 winning percentage.
A fourth-place finish in the PL this past season left last year's Japan Series champions little to celebrate, but Wakui carried the staff on a .500 team.
"I'm genuinely pleased about receiving the Sawamura Award," Wakui said. "It's a rare feat to accomplish.
"I had a lot of strikeouts and I was the only pitcher to have double digits in complete games, so I thought I had a chance to get the award."
Other nominees included strikeout leader Toshiya Sugiuchi of Fukuoka SoftBank, Nippon Ham ace Yu Darvish, the 2007 winner, and Rakuten's Masahiro Tanaka in the PL, and Central League wins leader Kazuki Yoshimi of Chunichi and Yomiuri's Dicky Gonzalez.
But Wakui met all the criteria, making him the first Sawamura selection for the Lions since Daisuke Matsusaka (now with the Boston Red Sox) in 2001 and the fifth straight for a PL pitcher.
"On the whole, the Pacific League has the top pitchers right now," said selection committee member Masaji Hiramatsu, a former Taiyo Whale.