2011 Japan Series
The 2011 Japan Series was the 62nd match-up of the champions of the Central League and Pacific League, Japan's top two circuits. The Series MVP was Softbank Hawks first baseman Hiroki Kokubo, who went 8 for 25 with a couple crucial run-scoring hits. The 40-year-old became the oldest MVP in Series history, surpassing his manager Koji Akiyama, who was 37 when he won in 1999.
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks
The SoftBank Hawks made their first Japan Series. They had previously made it as the Daiei Hawks (as recently as 2003) and the Nankai Hawks. Managed by Koji Akiyama, they finished first in the second straight season, this time at 88-46-10. Last year, they fell in the playoffs, but this time they advanced as expected. They led the Pacific League in fewest runs allowed (351) while finishing second in runs scored (550).
They had a team ERA of 2.32. They had the pitchers who ranked 3rd through 5th in the league in ERA - Tsuyoshi Wada (16-5, 1.51), Toshiya Sugiuchi (8-7, 1.94) and D.J. Houlton (19-5, 2.19). Houlton also tied for the win lead. Takehito Kanazawa (1-1, 3 Sv, 1.66), Brian Falkenborg (1-2, 19 Sv, 1.42), Masahiko Morifuku (4-2, Sv, 1.13) and Shota Oba (7-2, 2.55) all chipped in as well. The offense was led by 20-20 man Nobuhiro Matsuda (.282/.344/.510), who had 25 home runs (second in the PL), 27 steals and 31 doubles. 2B Yuichi Honda (.305/.367/.388) led with 60 steals while LF Seiichi Uchikawa (.338/.371/.485) won the batting title. Veteran Nobuhiko Matsunaka also had a good year at .308/.383/.504.
The Chunichi Dragons won their fifth Central League title in eight years since Hiromitsu Ochiai became their manager; they won the 2007 Japan Series as well but fell in three other Japan Series in that time. Chunichi was 75-59 for the best record in the CL. Playing in a pitcher-friendly park, they allowed the fewest runs in the CL (410, 96 fewer than anyone else) but also were last in offense (419 runs).
The team ERA was 2.46, with lots of contributors. Among those were Takuya Asao (7-2, 10 Sv, 0.41), Wei-Lin Chen (8-10, 2.68), Hitoki Iwase (0-1, 37 Sv, 1.48), Masato Kobayashi (5-0, 0.87, .114 opponent average), Maximo Nelson (10-14, 2.54), Yoshihiro Suzuki (2-1, 1.08), Enyelbert Soto (5-1, 1.73) and Kazuki Yoshimi (18-3, 1.65, the league leader in ERA and tied for the lead in wins). Their weak offense had few, if any, bright spots. 1B Tony Blanco (.248/.327/.475) had their best OPS and their most home runs (16).
Game 1: Koike clubs one in the clutch
Given the pitching success of both teams in the regular season, it was little surprise that the Series began with a pitching duel. Tsuyoshi Wada, who had won game 7 of the 2003 Japan Series as a rookie, impressed in his first Series start since then, retiring the first 13 Dragons and allowing one run in 8 (he fanned 8). Wei-Lin Chen was also dazzling, striking out 11 in 8 innings and allowing four hits and a run.
Softbank scored first. 3B Nobuhiro Matsuda singled up the middle with one out in the 4th inning then swiped second. 1B Hiroki Kokubo drew a walk from Chen. CF Yuya Hasegawa singled for a 1-0 lead. In the 7th, Chunichi DH Kazuhiro Wada hit a solo homer off Tsuyoshi Wada to tie it. In the 9th, Softbank had a shot against Takuya Asao. An error by SS Masahiro Araki put Kokubo on second and Hasegawa was given an intentional walk, but Asao got Hitoshi Tamura on a pop-up to Araki to end it. In the 10th, LF Masaaki Koike (Chunichi's #8 batter today and only starting in left because usual left fielder Wada was playing DH in a Pacific League park) hit a solo homer to left with two outs off Takahiro Mahara for the winning hit. Each team had gotten just four hits for the day, but Chunichi's two homers put them ahead.
It was the first day game in a Japan Series since game 6 of 1994.
Game 2: Encore
Home Runs - None
After a 2-1, 10-inning extra inning win for Chunichi and a loss for Takahiro Mahara in game one, the teams repeated things in game two.
Once again, the starters were outstanding, if not quite as great as the day before. Toshiya Sugiuchi of Softbank (7 2/3 IP, 5 K, 5 H) and Chunichi's Kazuki Yoshimi (6 IP, 4 K, 7 H) both tossed six shutout innings to open the game. In the 7th, Chunichi went ahead when RF Ryosuke Hirata doubled in a run. Softbank came right back in the bottom of the 7th, loading the bases for leadoff man Munenori Kawasaki, who drove in the tying run off game one winner Takuya Asao.
In the 8th, the Dragons got men on the corners with two outs against Sugiuchi, who finally was yanked. Brian Falkenborg came in to face cleanup hitter/1B Tony Blanco and promptly whiffed his fellow gaijin. Chunichi finally got the winning run in the 10th. Mahara got the first two outs, but the Dragons again handed him the loss as SS Masahiro Araki had an infield hit, 2B Hirokazu Ibata drew a walk and 3B Masahiko Morino singled to left. It was Morino's third hit in five at-bats today.
Game 3: Softbank powers their way back into the Series
Softbank's hitters finally came to life, doing their damage off former Israel Baseball League hurler Maximo Nelson, whose Organized Baseball career had been derailed by a visa scandal. In the first, 2B Yuichi Honda walked and advanced on an error by Chunichi 3B Masahiko Morino. 3B Nobuhiro Matsuda singled him home for a quick 1-0 lead. In the 4th, they added insurance when CF Yuya Hasegawa singled and RF Hitoshi Tamura delivered a 2-run homer.
While Nelson wasn't able to duplicate the success of the game 1 and 2 starters (he allowed nine hits and three runs in 5 2/3 IP), Softbank's Tadashi Settsu was. The 2007 Baseball World Cup star allowed only four hits, two walks and one run in 7 innings, while fanning 8. He shut out Chunichi for five innings before 2B Hirokazu Ibata drove in a run.
In the 8th, Hawks catcher Toru Hosokawa homered off Yoshihiro Suzuki to make it 4-1, but Chunichi pulled back within two on a sacrifice fly by SS Masahiro Araki. In the 9th, Koji Akiyama did not turn to game 1 and 2 goat Takahiro Mahara, instead going with Brian Falkenborg. Falkenborg walked one but allowed nothing else in closing out the game to give Softbank its first win of the Series.
Tamura and Hosokoawa, Softbnak's #8 and #9 batters, each went 3 for 4 to go with their homers, as the Hawks got their offense from unexpected sources. Meanwhile, the only hitless Hawk was the third hitter in their order, batting champion Seiichi Uchikawa (0 for 5).
Game 4: The Hawks get relief
Home Runs - None
Softbank knotted the Series at two, with the third 2-1 contest so far, carried primarily by their bullpen.
The Hawks got all the offense they neded in the top of the first. SS Munenori Kawasaki opened the game with a single. With one out, both LF Seiichi Uchikawa and 1B Hiroki Kokubo singled to right to make it 1-0. Softbank 3B Nobuhiro Matsuda hit into a potential inning-ending 4-6-3 double play but SS Masahiro Araki (a six-time Gold Glove winner) made a run-scoring throwing error. Chunichi would shut out Softbank the remainder of the way but would not manage enough offense to catch up, let alone take the lead.
The Dragons got their only run in the 5th, on a single by Araki. They had a great opportunity in the 6th, loading the bases with 3B Masahiko Morino, 1B Tony Blanco and LF Kazuhiro Wada with none out against D.J. Houlton. Koji Akiyama made the wrong call with his relievers this time, sending in Masahiko Morifuku. Morifuku promptly fanned PH Masaaki Koike, got CF Ryosuke Hirata on a fly and C Motonobu Tanishige on a grounder to escape the jam. He tossed a hitless, scoreless 7th and Brian Falkenborg followed with two more hitless shutout innings to wrap it up.
Game 5: Chunichi gets swept at home
Home Runs - None
Softbank continued to roll on the road, winning their third in a row, behind a four-man pitching effort.
The first inning was almost a perfect duplicate of yesterday. Just as on Wednesday, SS Munenori Kawasaki singled to lead off the game. With one out, Wei-Lin Chen allowed singles to LF Seiichi Uchikawa and 1B Hiroki Kokubo, the same sequence of events as yesterday. After that, Chen and Hiroki Yamada both pitched shutout ball through the sixth. In the 4th, Chunichi RF Masaaki Koike crashed into the wall while trying to catch a fly by 3B Nobuhiro Matsuda; he had to leave the game with an elbow injury.
In the 7th, Softbank got an insurance run on a C Toru Hosokawa single. They padded their lead in the 8th. 2B Yuichi Honda and Uchikawa both singled off Chen and Kokubo drew a walk. Hiromitsu Ochiai turned to Junichi Kawahara. He promptly plunked Matsuda to force in a run. RF Hitoshi Tamura then delivered a 2-run single to end the scoring.
Chunichi SS Masahiro Araki went 3 for 4, but his teammates were 2 for 28.
Game 6: Kazuhiro again wins the battle of the Wadas
Home Runs - None
With their backs to the wall, the Dragons battled back to tie the Series, once again relying on their pitching.
Chunichi got all the runs they needed in the first - unfortunately, those would also be their last runs of the Series. SS Masahiro Araki opened the game with a single. With two outs, 1B Tony Blanco drew a walk from Tsuyoshi Wada. DH Kazuhiro Wada got the better in the battle of the Wadas, just as in game two, delivering a 2-run triple for the winning blow. Softbank's only run against Kazuki Yoshimi came in the bottom of the 4th when 2B Yuichi Honda tripled and LF Seiichi Uchikawa singled him home. The game ended with Chunichi 1B Masahiko Morino (moved from 3B late in the game) reaching into the stands to catch a foul pop. Yoshimi allowed only 5 hits and no walks in 7 2/3 innings while striking out eight.
Game 7: You can't win if you can't score
Home Runs - None
Chunichi continued to display the weakest offense in Japan Series history, getting blanked on just four hits, losing out to Softbank. Their pitchers again fared pretty well, posting the third-lowest ERA by the losing squad in a Japan Series.
Hiromitsu Ochiai tried Daisuke Yamai, the only man to pitch a perfect game in a Japan Series (2007). This time, he was not as sharp. He battled Toshiya Sugiuchi evenly through two. In the bottom of the third, though, he let RF Hitoshi Tamura, CF Yuya Hasegawa and C Katsuki Yamazaki all reach with none out. Masato Kobayashi relieved but walked SS Munenori Kawasaki to force in a run. It was the second bases-loaded walk in Series annals, following Ryuzo Yamasaki in 1986. In the 4th, Softbank scored off reliever Maximo Nelson. He walked DH Nobuhiko Matsunaka. After two outs (one a sacrifice bunt), Kawasaki was intentionally walked. Yamazaki then delivered a RBI single.
In the 7th, LF Seiichi Uchikawa singled in Softbank's third run. Sugiuchi left after 7 shutout innings with 8 strikeouts, 3 hits and 2 walks. He was relieved by Brian Falkenborg, who struck out the side in the 8th. 2B Hirokazu Ibata lined one off of Falkenborg's arm to open the 9th and he left for medical evaluation. Masahiko Morifuku entered and retired the 3rd and 4th batters, 3B Masahiko Morino and 1B Tony Blanco. Tadashi Settsu was then summoned to face LF Kazuhiro Wada, Chunichi's top threat this Series. Settsu won the match-up, fanning Wada to end it.
Chunichi catcher Motonobu Tanishige was 0 for 23 for the Series, falling to 0 for 40 in the postseason. He broke Daijiro Oishi's 22-year-old record for most consecutive hitless at-bats in a Series. As a team, the Dragons set 7-game Series records for lowest average (.155), fewest runs (9), fewest total bases (48) and fewest hits (34).
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