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Rob Smaal

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Giants savor 21st Japan Series crown

by Rob Smaal (Nov 10, 2009)

Some things just never get old.

Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara was tossed in the air by his club on Saturday evening at Sapporo Dome shortly after a 2-0 victory over the Nippon-Ham Fighters sealed the Giants' 21st Japan Series title.

"We were able to execute our 'winning pattern' today," Hara said after the win that gave Yomiuri a 4-2 series triumph. "In the end, we are No. 1, and it felt great to be tossed in the air during the doage."

It's a feeling Hara should be used to by now. He started off the season by piloting Japan to its second straight World Baseball Classic title and finished the 2009 campaign by winning the Central League pennant and then the Japan Series.

This Giants' victory helps take some of the sting out of their Game 7 loss to the Seibu Lions in last year's Japan Series. For a team of stars built around power and pitching, the Giants won this title playing solid team baseball, a sentiment that was echoed by Hara and several of his players.

With regular-season stalwarts like Hayato Sakamoto and Michihiro Ogasawara struggling at the plate, less-heralded players like pesky No. 2 hitter Tetsuya Matsumoto, Yoshiyuki Kamei, veteran pinch-hitter Noriyoshi Omichi and captain Shinnosuke Abe stepped up in the Japan Series. Matsumoto hit .304 and caused some havoc with his speed when he got on base and Abe was named Japan Series MVP after his walk-off home run at Tokyo Dome won a Game 5 thriller for the Giants and his second-inning RBI double off wall in Sapporo proved to be the game-winner in the finale.

"It's a great feeling (to be crowned champions), I'll tell you that, unbelievable," said Giants cleanup-hitter Alex Ramirez, one of the league's premier power-hitters who led the CL with a .322 average but hit only .250 with one home run in the Japan Series. "We were in this same position last year and we couldn't make it and now this is our time. It was a total team effort and everybody did what they were supposed to do and, wow, they all came through. Especially (closer Marc) Kroon--he did an outstanding job for us, both in the Climax Series and the Japan Series."

Hara called on Kroon to get the final four outs Saturday and he responded by picking up his third save of the series, but not without a little drama added. The hard-throwing right-hander also closed out all three Giants' wins over the Chunichi Dragons in the CL Climax Series, earning saves in two of them.

"That was amazing," said an emotional Kroon, on getting the final out in the Japan Series clincher. "It's a pitcher's dream to win a championship and to strike out the No. 4 batter in the ninth inning after he's had a great series. Last game, to be on the mound, runners in scoring position, up by two runs, facing the No. 4 batter--it doesn't get any better than that."

Kroon gave up a leadoff double in the ninth to former Giant Tomohiro Nioka and he also walked a batter, but he struck out the Fighters' No. 3 and 4 hitters, Atsunori Inaba and Shinji Takahashi, to end it.

The team concept was exemplified Saturday when Hara used six pitchers to shut out the Hammies on their home turf. Starter Shun Tono was forced to make an early exit when a line drive hit him on his right (pitching) hand just 14 pitches into the game. Hara called in lefty Tetsuya Utsumi, a man he called a "fake samurai" after some early season struggles. On this night, however, Utsumi stood tall, getting the win as he worked 4 2/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Kiyoshi Toyoda then tossed two-thirds of an inning before Hara turned to that familiar "winning pattern" he referred to--Tetsuya Yamaguchi and Daisuke Ochi setting the table for Kroon.

It was far from a dominant performance by the Giants' pitching staff--the Fighters out-hit Yomiuri 11-6 on the night and Nippon-Ham had runners in scoring position in six out of nine innings--but they hung tough and got the job done.

Fighters left-hander Masaru Takeda was the hard-luck loser Saturday. Takeda allowed just one earned run over 7 2/3 innings when he gave up doubles to Yoshiyuki Kamei and Abe in the second inning, two of the six hits he allowed all night.

Inaba had a Game 6 he'd just as soon forget. He was 1-for-5 with a single and three strikeouts Saturday, including a huge K with one out and two men on in the bottom of the ninth, and it was his error in right field in the sixth that allowed the Giants to score their second run. For the series, Inaba--the 2006 Japan Series MVP and a .300 hitter with 17 HRs and 85 RBIs this season--hit .208 and the big guy was 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.


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