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Wadas walk off with top honors

by Jim Allen (Nov 19, 2010)

It has been a big year for a couple of guys named Wada.

On Thursday, Fukuoka SoftBank southpaw Tsuyoshi Wada won the Pacific League's Most Valuable Player Award, while Chunichi Dragons outfielder Kazuhiro Wada was named the Central League's top contributor. The rookie of the year awards went to outfielder Hisayoshi Chono of the Yomiuri Giants and Hokkaido Nippon Ham reliever Ryo Sakakibara.

For pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada, motivation was found in his disastrous 2009.

"Last year, I had elbow trouble and posted some fairly forgettable numbers," Wada said. "I was coming off that and the team had not won a pennant in seven seasons. I wanted to take out all of last year's frustration on our opponents this year."

This time around, things clicked for both Wada and the Hawks. The pitcher rebounded from his 4-5 mark in 2009 to go 17-8 this season as the Hawks won their first PL pennant since 2003.

Wada collected 76 first-place votes and 585 points. Lefty teammate Toshiya Sugiuchi was second with 59 first-place votes and 480 points. Chiba Lotte Marines shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka, whose team put him on the market for major league clubs through the posting system earlier in the day, was third with 44 firsts and 331 points.

The Dragons' Wada, a 14-year veteran in his third season since joining Chunichi as a free agent, said he was inspired this year by words from manager Hiromitsu Ochiai.

"In the spring, the manager came to me and said, 'By whatever means it takes, we're going to win the pennant this season,'" Wada said. "That became a focal point for me, and I have never more determined than I was this year."

At the age of 38, Wada played in all 144 games for the second straight year, reached career highs in runs scored (94), home runs (37) and walks (92) for the CL champions.

He collected 131 first-place votes. Chunichi middle reliever Takuya Asao received 66 firsts and 600 points. Hanshin Tigers outfielder Matt Murton, who rewrote the single-season hit record with 214, finished third, with 270 points. Murton, however, led all CL outfielders in the Best IX voting.

The Tigers led both leagues with four Best IX selections. First baseman Craig Brazell joined Murton on the honor roll, as did second baseman Keiichi Hirano and shortstop Takashi Toritani.

Although the vote for the PL's Best IX pitcher went to Wada, he won by a narrow 59-56 margin over Orix Buffaloes right-hander Chihiro Kaneko.

"There was nothing particularly new that made a big difference this year," Wada said. "I had good command of my fastball low in the zone and my breaking pitches.

"The biggest thing was that the batters scored for me and the relievers following me did a great job."

The Hawks, however, fell short of their ultimate goal, their season ending in the final stage of the PLCS.

"Next season, I want to remember how things were a year ago and do whatever it takes to not have another year like that," Wada said. "Then, we have to win the Climax Series and the Japan Series."

Although the Dragons won both the CL pennant and Climax Series, they too, fell short of the final goal.

"Opting for free agency means getting results," Kazuhiro Wada said. "I feel like, in my third year here, I have finally gotten the job done.

"Because we lost the Japan Series, even this greatest season has question marks attached to it. Being a baseball player means having to win."

While the Yomiuri Giants lost their three-year grip on the CL pennant this season, Chono became the club's third straight rookie of the year. Pitcher Tetsuya Yamaguchi won in 2008 and outfielder Tetsuya Matsumoto in 2009.

"I'm glad I wasn't the one to end the streak," said Chono, who played in 128 games, batting .288 with 19 home runs.

"I thought the level of play in the pros would be high, but it proved even harder than I thought."

Sakakibara, sent to the minors after some early season struggles, came back and became the man manager Masataka Nashida turned to when the game was tied. The 25-year-old went 10-1 with a 2.63 ERA.

"I've never been on the first team from Opening Day until the end of the season," Sakakibara said. "That's my goal for next season."


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