If a high school boy can do it…

On Aug. 20, 1998, Yokohama High School’s Daisuke Matsuzaka threw a 250-pitch, 17-inning complete game victory over powerhouse PL Gakuen High School in the quarterfinals of the national high school championships.

Ten days later, 24-year-old Chunichi Dragons left-hander Shigeki Noguchi gave his best shot at matching Matsuzaka, whose heroics at Koshien Stadium made him a household name in Japan.

Pitching against the defending CL champion Yakult Swallows at Nagoya Dome, Noguchi allowed 10 hits and issued six walks and ended up the losing pitcher in a 5-3, 12-inning complete-game defeat. Eric Anthony, who played in the majors with five different big league clubs, singled in the tie-breaking runs in the top of the 12th.

Asked the next day about his 203-pitch count, Noguchi said, “I was inspired by Daisuke Matsuzaka. If he can do it, so can I.”

Noguchi, in his fifth pro season, would go 2-3 the remainder of the year to finish with a 14-9 record and posted a Central League-leading 2.34 ERA. However, over 34 innings in his remaining five starts,
he allowed 18 runs, 12 earned. The Dragons finished runner-up in the CL pennant race, four games back of the Yokohama BayStars.

2019 NPB win shares leaders

I’m sorry this took so long, but I just emerged from a park home run and run adjustment rabbit hole yesterday, and with that out of the way, I was able to get this year’s win shares up and running.

The CL top 10

2019 CL Win Shares Leaders

NameTeamRaw WSBatting WSDef WSPitching WS
Seiya SuzukiCarp30.727.43.3
Tetsuto YamadaSwallows28.924.34.6
Hayato SakamotoGiants28.122.16.0
Neftali SotoBayStars25.122.32.8
Yoshihiro MaruGiants23.818.55.3
Yohei OshimaDragons23.418.44.9
Yoshitomo TsutsugoBayStars22.319.92.4
Tsubasa AizawaCarp21.214.96.3
Dayan ViciedoDragons20.918.62.3
Yusuke OyamaTigers17.112.94.2
The top 10 Bill James win shares from NPB's 2019 Central League

The CL’s top 10 pitchers

Win Shares CL pitchers

NameTeamRaw WSBatting WSPitching WS
Shun YamaguchiGiants14.6014.6
Shota ImanagaBayStars13.4013.4
Yudai OnoDragons13.0013.0
Kris JohnsonCarp12.8012.8
Yuki NishiTigers12.2012.2
Yasuaki YamasakiBayStars12.0012.0
Kota NakagawaGiants11.7011.7
Rafael DolisTigers11.5011.5
Kyuji FujikawaTigers11.3011.3
Daichi OseraCarp10.5010.5
2019 CL pitching win shares leaders

The PL top 10

2019 PL Win Shares Leaders

NameTeamRaw WSBatting WSDef WSPitching WS
Tomoya MoriLions33.230.03.2
Masataka YoshidaBuffaloes28.627.01.6
Shuta TonosakiLions25.919.26.7
Takeya NakamuraLions25.322.03.3
Hotaka YamakawaLions25.323.32.0
Hideto AsamuraEagles24.720.14.6
Jabari BlashEagles23.622.61.0
Haruki NishikawaFighters23.118.24.9
Shogo AkiyamaLions22.520.32.2
Eigoro MogiEagles21.215.35.9
Takashi OginoMarines21.218.72.5
The top 10 Bill James win shares from NPB's 2019 Pacific League

The PL’s top 10 pitchers

Win Shares PL pitchers

NameTeamRaw WSBatting WSPitching WS
Kodai SengaHawks16.0016.0
Kohei AriharaFighters14.7014.7
Yoshinobu YamamotoBuffaloes14.4014.4
Tatsushi MasudaLions13.9013.9
Yuki MatsuiEagles12.7012.7
Yuito MoriHawks11.6011.6
Rei TakahashiHawks11.2011.2
Naoya MasudaMarines11.0011.0
Taisuke YamaokaBuffaloes10.7010.7
Livan MoineloHawks10.1010.1
2019 PL pitching win shares leaders

Akiyama looking to majors

Seibu Lions center fielder Shogo Akiyama revealed Tuesday that he has informed the Pacific League club he will file for free agency in order to seek a deal with a major league team.

My analysis of Akiyama’s game is HERE. You can find the Kyodo News story published in the Japan Times HERE.

Since I have completed win shares calculations for 2019. Here are Akiyama’s career figures. For those unfamiliar with win shares, three win shares are worth one win.

Shogo Akiyama

YearTeamRaw WSBatting WSDef WSWAR
Career Win Shares

NPB news of Oct. 27, 2019

My prospective MLB player page “Guess who’s coming to dinner” has been updated HERE.

Eagles’ Mima to test free agency

Rakuten Eagles right-hander Manabu Mima, who posted a 4.01 ERA in 143-2/3 innings this year and has a career 51-60 record, said Sunday he would file for domestic free agency. He’s one of the few Japanese pitchers to regularly feature a two-seam fastball, and throws his slider nearly as often as his 143.6 kph four-seamer.

Nomura to stick with Carp

Saying that he “loves the Hiroshima Carp,” right-hander Yusuke Nomura said this week that he would not file for domestic free agency in order to remain in Hiroshima.

The 30-year-old, a 16-game winner when the Carp ended their 24-year championship drought in 2016, has struggled the last two season, not reaching 120 innings or having an ERA below 4.00.

Stewart heads home

Carter Stewart Jr returned to the United States on Sunday after completing his first season of pro ball in Japan competing for the SoftBank Hawks’ third team. The third-team is typically composed of players on developmental contracts and does not compete in a league, but rather plays amateur and independent minor league teams.

Nikkan Sports reported on his departure. According to their report, Stewart won four games with a 4.36 ERA, and said he hopes to impress in spring training so that he can compete for the Hawks’ top farm team in the Western League and make his Pacific League debut with the big club.

The 19-year-old right-hander who declined to sign with the Atlanta Braves in 2018 as the eighth player taken in MLB’s June amateur draft that year, will be eligible to enter MLB as an international free agent after turning 25 with six seasons of pro baseball under his belt.

Nikkan sports, translating his English into Japanese, reported that he said he had gotten used to Japanese ball. He pitched in two instructional league games prior to his departure and was handed an offseason training menu before his departure.

Stewart is a client of Scott Boras, who in December told me a player such as his client would be unable to qualify for international free agency and would have to re-enter MLB’s draft. So either Boras was lying to throw me off the scent, or didn’t know. If so, he was not alone, as two other agents also told me that week that U.S. and Canadian citizens could not circumvent the draft by playing abroad.

Don’t believe me, believe Scott:

Scott Boras in December 2018 on the possibility of circumventing MLB draft

Japan Series 2019 Game 4

Sweep city

It took 60 years, but the 2019 SoftBank Hawks became the second team in franchise history to beat the Yomiuri Giants in the Japan Series, replicating the 1959 Nankai Hawks’ four-game sweep with a 4-3 win Game 4 win at Tokyo Dome. SoftBank has now won five of the last six Japan Series — a feat last achieved by the Seibu Lions’ run of six series titles in seven seasons from 1986 to 1992

Cuba’s Yurisbel Gracial was named the series MVP after his third home run over four games, a three-run blast, proved to be the big blow of Wednesday’s final game.

Aces present and past

As advertised, Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano started for Yomiuri after the end of his season was marred by lower back pain. Unlike the pitcher who struggled in September, however, Sugano’s location and command were spot-on. With umpire Takanori Yamamoto’s strike zone giving the pitchers a strike zone that would accommodate a motor scooter, Sugano located his fastball just off the plate for one called strike after another.

His 38-year-old opponent, Tsuyoshi Wada, had also struggled with nagging injuries this season and pitched in just a handful of games. Wada, SoftBank’s ace until he joined the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent in 2012, lost some velocity after Tommy John surgery and has become the ultimate locating finesse pitcher. With physical issues in the second half, his location and command suffered, but like Sugano, he was nearly as good as he’s been in years.

Nearly every Giants batter came to the plate with a strike against him, as Wada started most of them with a first-pitch slider for a strike at the lower limit of the zone. Working over left-handed hitters with his slider and fastball, and doing the same to right-handers with the help of his changeup, Wada was really the last pitcher the struggling Giants hitters needed to see.

The Giants needed six hits to avoid breaking the 2005 Hanshin Tigers’ record for fewest hits (22) in a Japan Series, and they managed just one off Wada over five innings.

Gracial goes first

Gracial’s first two series homers, a two-run shot in Game 1 and a solo Game 3 blast, followed on the heels of Giants home runs. But this time he didn’t wait. With the game scoreless through three, Sugano ran into trouble. A lucky bounce turned Kenta Imamiya’s bouncer to third into a leadoff single.

With one out and Imamiya on second after a steal, Sugano’s first-pitch fastball to Alfredo Despaigne was high enough for him to smash into left and bring Gracial up with a chance to do some damage.

Sugano got ahead of the count and tried to lure Gracial farther out of the strike zone, but Gracial fouled off the closer pitches and laid off the others. A 3-2 slider meant for the outside corner got too much of the zone. It had enough movement to just miss the sweet spot, but Gracial got enough of the ball to send it six rows past the center field wall.

Okamoto makes a game of it

Hawks skipper Kimiyasu Kudo pulled Wada after five, and the switch to hard-throwing right-hander Robert Suarez looked like it would be a nasty change for the Giants. But Suarez issued a one-out walk and missed up with a 157-kilometer-per-hour fastball away that Kazuma Okamoto drilled the other way into the stands in right center.

The teams traded runs in the seventh, the Giants giving away one with the help of a pair of errors. Yasuhiro Yamamoto, in at second as a defensive replacement made a wild throw with his first touch, replicating his snake-bit start in Game 2 when his first touch of the game as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning opened the door to a three-run inning.

Charity begins at home plate

With the Giants facing elimination, home plate umpire Yamamoto gave them a little help with a smaller strike zone than the one he’d had for most of the game. It allowed Hayato Sakamoto to avoid ending the game on a called third strike, against closer Yuito Mori. But the Giants captain failed to take advantage, swinging his way out of the at-bat flailing at a pitch well out of the zone.

Series notes

  • The Giants managed 22 hits, tying the Tigers record for fewest hits, although the Tigers batted in just 34 innings in 2005, their 10-1 Game 1 loss being called on account of fog in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Giants’ .176 team batting average is also a record low, while their 35 strikeouts are a record for four games.
  • The series set a four-game attendance record of 163,365. Unlike team attendance records, which some teams greatly inflated prior to 2005, NPB counts Japan Series and All-Star attendance.
  • The Giants became the second team to commit four errors in a four-game series and became the first team to only turn one double play.
  • The Giants extended their team record for years without a Japan Series title to seven.
  • The Hawks became the fourth non-league champion to win the Japan Series, having accomplished the feat the past two seasons. The other two teams were the 2007 Chunichi Dragons and the 2010 Lotte Orions. The Hawks, however, won the regular-season championship in 2004 and 2005 to the eventual series champs, the Seibu Lions and Marines, but from 2004 to 2006, the PL pennant was decided in the playoffs. That changed in 2007, when the CL came on board and insisted the regular-season champion be awarded the league title.

Japan Series 2019 Game 3

There was a little reminiscing at the start of Tuesday’s Game 3, when the Japan Series moved to the home of the Central League champions, with the Yomiuri Giants trailing 2-0. That’s the same deficit they overcame in the 2000 neural surgeon series to beat the Hawks.

Hawks cruise past Giants rookies

Giants rookie Yuki Takahashi lasted 2-2/3 innings, while SoftBank starter Rick van den Hurk was pulled after four frames with both starters giving up two innings. The game was decided in that 1-1/3-inning gap in which another Giants rookie, Shosei Togo, allowed four unearned runs in a third of an inning.

After a Seiichi Uchikawa single and a walk, the fun began with van den Hurk not squaring to bunt on the first pitch. TV cameras showed that this had taken the Giants bench by surprise, and the infielders had to gather at the mound to consider the implications of the Hawks not bunting in an automatic bunt situation.

Van den Hurk got a poor bunt down on the next pitch, Togo pounced and threw a one-hopper that third baseman Kazuma Okamoto could have caught but didn’t to load the bases. A pinch-hit sacrifice fly, an infield single and a walk made it 4-2 and Alfredo Despaigne completed the scoring with a two-run single.

Despaigne, a designated hitter playing left field, had one outfield incident, playing a potential out into a second-inning double for Cuban compatriot Alex Guerrero. But the Hawks’ home run leader drove in three runs with a pair of singles.

The Giants leadoff man, a hard-hitting 37-year-old on-base machine named Yoshiyuki Kamei, homered twice, while Yurisbel Gracial hit his second homer of the series.

The Giants narrative will no doubt switch from 2000 to 1989, when Yomiuri bounced back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Kintetsu Buffaloes. The Buffaloes operated from 1950 to 2004 and at the time they merged with the Orix BlueWave, were the only existing NPB team without a Japan Series championship.

Some other notes

  • The Giants may have set a Japan Series record by going through four pitchers in the first four innings.
  • van den Hurk retired Giants cleanup hitter Okamoto twice on seven pitches, all curveballs.
  • Hawks rookie Hiroshi Kaino allowed one hit in his four-batter seventh inning, with all three outs recorded on called third strikes.
  • Hawks closer Yuito Mori has pitched and wrapped up all three games but has yet to enter in a save situation.
  • Needing four runs in the ninth, Giants pinch-runner Daiki Masuda tried to go from first and third on a one-out wild pitch and didn’t make it.
  • Game 4 will pit Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano, who has been suffering from lower back issues since September against 38-year-old lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, who was once the Hawks ace and who has been struggling with fitness issues the past few months as well.
  • No team has swept the Japan Series since the Lotte Marines beat the Hanshin Tigers in 2005.
  • The Hawks and Giants are playing each other for a record 11th time, with the Hawks having won just once, 60 years ago, when Nankai Hawks Hall of Famer Tadashi Sugiura won all four games in a 4-0 sweep, starting Games 1, 3 and 4, and finishing the series with back-to-back complete game victories.

Japan and the way of the pitcher

There will be no winner of the Sawamura Award this season in order to “maintain the standards of the award and encourage pitchers and teams” to develop starting pitchers like they were in the old days.

This reminded me of a time in Japanese history when it was felt an entire social class needed to be lectured about its traditional duties in a society that had no role or rewards for it.

The Eiji Sawamura Award

The first Japan Series travel day has traditionally been dedicated to selecting a Sawamura Award winner. The award, created and sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbun, differs from Major League Baseball’s Cy Young Awards in a number of ways.

  • It is selected by a small panel of former elite pitchers, and decided by unanimous consent
  • There is only one award for pitchers from both leagues, although occasionally two pitchers will be named co-winners.
  • The purpose is not to name the best pitcher, but the pitcher who best represents the qualities of Japan’s first pro ace pitcher, Eiji Sawamura — in other words, a power pitcher who throws lots of innings while completing and winning a lot of games with an impressive ERA.
  • The panel makes use of seven benchmarks: 25 games, 15 wins, 10 complete games, a .600 winning percentage, 200 innings, a 2.50 ERA and 150 strikeouts. These have gradually been adjusted downward to reflect changes in the pitching environment, and the panel now considers its version of quality starts, which are seven innings and three or fewer earned runs.

We’re not worthy

On Monday, the panel met in Tokyo and announced that for the first time since 2000, no one was qualified.

That year I attended my first Sawamura Award announcement, and have missed only a couple since then, including Monday’s unfortunately. Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times, a Sawamura regular for the past dozen years or so, wrote it up HERE.

Essentially, no pitchers threw 200 innings this past year in NPB’s 143-game regular season, and the NPB leader in complete games was Daichi Osera with six. According to Coskrey, different panelists supported different candidates, but with each pitcher failing to rack up nearly enough innings or complete games, there was no consensus, and they blamed the sad state of starting pitching on the Americanization of the game.

I would have loved to ask them how they feel about the growing movement toward pitch counts and mandatory rest in Japanese amateur baseball because these pitching greats tend to be pretty frank and free with their opinions.

“As a member of the committee, I would like everyone to remember once again the Sawamura Award has helped build the history of NPB and supported NPB’s great pitchers. So my decision was nobody wins. I want the media to understand the greatness of the Sawamura Award led to this decision.”

–Former Lotte Ace “Sunday” Choji Murata, according to Jason Coskrey

The last two years have been atypical in that the selectors praised Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano to the skies and found little fault with him. The norm is for the old guys to rip into today’s pitchers. While recognizing their talent, they launch into diatribes about what the best pitchers lack.

The best pitcher in Japan this season was probably SoftBank’s Kodai Senga. According to Coskrey, Horiuchi complained that “he could be better.” I guarantee if you dropped Senga into Horiuchi’s era of the 1960s and 1970s, he’d be vastly better.

The panelists recognize that the game is changing but at the same time seem put-off by the idea that teams are trying to maximize the utility of their pitching resources rather than using games as a kind of homage to the old ways.

I’ve written about this in the past, but when people these days point to the huge numbers of complete games thrown 50 years ago, they are giving the impression that those starters were regular running up high pitch counts. They weren’t. Most of the complete games in the 1960s were right around 100 pitches.

It was a different game. Batters were not walking as much. Weaker hitters were not as good as they are today, and there were more really bad teams with soft lineups. And even the best pitchers were yanked early when they had awkward first innings.

People often yearn for an idealized past, and part of the Sawamura Award process is a push to turn back the clock to an era when the competition and context were vastly different and use the award to get players and teams to alter their behavior, a kind of annual MAGA gathering with good manners and suits instead of red hats.

Back in the day

Japan’s “Way of the Warrior” was a concept from Japan’s warring states period, teaching how samurai had to train and be righteous in society. But the actual formal documents called “Bushido” are an artifact of Edo period ‘s extended peace, a time when the warrior caste had become fossilized and essentially redundant.

At that time, the Tokugawa clan dominated the nation and samurai became underpaid petty bureaucrats in a society that became dominated by the merchant class. In that situation, it was no surprise that many samurai were forced to engage in commercial pursuits — something prohibited by Japan’s caste system — and strayed from the path they were ideally supposed to follow.

Like the rants of the Sawamura committee, the purpose of formalizing bushido and publishing it as texts was to make the samurai act in conformity with a doctrine that conflicted with the need to keep their families from starving.

Likewise, the Sawamura committee would have pitchers suddenly be as good against today’s superior competition as they themselves had been against the weaker hitting opponents of their day.

The committee would have teams reject using pitchers in ways managers and organizations believe will maximize their abilities and use them in a more heroic and dramatic fashion. To what end do they want this? To see the past relived through today’s pitchers.

While they mean well and truly want to inspire pitchers to new heights, I have three words for all of them: Get over it.

Japan Series 2019 Game 2

It took Kan Otake 18 pro seasons to reach the Japan Series and about two minutes for it to go south on him. The veteran right-hander, who joined the Yomiuri Giants as a free agent after the Giants lost the 2013 series in seven games, got his first opportunity on Sunday.

The 36-year-old, who found new life this season in middle relief, entered the seventh inning of a scoreless game in relief of Cristopher Mercedes, only for an error to put the leadoff man on base after slugger Alfredo Despaigne struggled to make contact.

With pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto on first, the SoftBank Hawks pulled off a run and hit on a 2-1 pitch to Yurisbel Gracial that put runners on the corners with no outs.

Otake’s 15th pitch, a 2-0 fastball was up and got a little too much of the plate and way too much of the barrel. Nobuhiro Matsuda launched it out over the imposing distant center field wall to break up the scoreless game.

“That was pretty rare for me to hit one out to center field,” Matsuda said.

The Hawks looked to add on a run in the eighth by having two-time batting champion Seiichi Uchikawa sacrifice for the second straight game, but no more runs would cross until Yuki Yanagita and Shuhei Fukuda went deep in the eighth off a pair of big breaking balls.

“That (home run power) is really our bread and butter,” manager Kimiyasu Kudo said a day after asserting that the Hawks’ strength was their ability to play small ball.

Mercedes and Hawks rookie Rei Takahashi combined to make this the first game in the series’ 70-year history without a base runner through four innings, a stretch Matsuda ended with a two-out fifth-inning single. Mercedes got hitters to chase his slider out of the zone, while Takahashi confounded them with great run on his fastball and some wonderful movement with his screwball.

Hawks spreading the love

The Hawks’ home winning streak extends back to their 2011 championship against the Chunichi Dragons. This is their fifth series since and a victory this time will see them complete a grand slam of sorts by defeating all six Central League teams, having knocked off the Hanshin Tigers in 2014, the Yakult Swallows (2015), the DeNA BayStars (2017) and Hiroshima Carp (2018).

With both pitchers on, the game really turned on the defense, which helped Takahashi get away with a some good swings on his mistakes and kept him in the game as long as he was.

All in all it was a spectacle a great pitchers’ duel, combined with home runs and a late comeback as the Giants scored three runs in the ninth and put the tying run on deck before the game ended.

“Mercedes was really flying tonight,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “Nice pitching.”

“Our bullpen gave up hits on miss-located pitches. Next time we’ll have to pitch so we don’t throw them where they’re easy to hit.”

Japan Series 2019 Game 1

The Hawks and Giants kicked off a revival of their formerly long-running rivalry, meeting in the autumn’s season-ending series for the first time in 19 years. So before the game all the focus was on something that had absolutely nothing to do with the proceedings: reminiscing about former Hall of Fame Giants teammates, Sadaharu Oh and Shigeo Nagashima, who managed against each other in 2000.

If they wanted to reminisce about the “ON” series, perhaps they should have mentioned the neural surgeons, which I’ll get to later.

Senga gets the job done

Making his third straight Game 1 start, Kodai Senga allowed a run — on a second-inning homer by future Hall of Famer Shinnosuke Abe — over seven innings. He earned the wins as SoftBank pulled away against the Giants’ bullpen in a 7-2 win.

The Hawks have now won 13 straight Japan Series home games. On Sunday, the Giants will be going for their first series road win since they beat Masahiro Tanaka in Game 6 in 2013, the only loss Tanaka would suffer in that calendar year.

After Abe’s home run, Yurisbel Gracial turned on a high-but-straight fastball from Shun Yamaguchi and lined it into the field seats just inside the permanent wall at Yafuoku Dome, the Home Run Terrace to put SoftBank up by one.

Senga lacked control, but he could get batters out in the strike zone, while Yamaguchi got hitters to chase out of the zone and flail at a superb splitter. When his control sputtered in the sixth, he surrendered another run. The Hawks might have scored more, but Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo was determined to play small ball.

Hard-hitting shortstop Kenta Imamiya sacrificed to give Yamaguchi the only he could manage until Akira Nakamura‘s bases-loaded sacrifice fly made it 3-1, and helped the Hawks strand two.

In the bottom of the seventh, Kudo pulled pinch-hitter Yuya Hasegawa for pinch-hitter Keizo Kawashima to get a platoon advantage when the Giants flipped to a lefty to face Hasegawa. Both of these hitters are terrific, so there’s really nothing to be gained here, but the guys in the broadcasting booth were going nuts about how actively Hawks skipper Kimiyasu Kudo was pushing buttons.

“We have home run power, but we also can execute a small-ball attack,” Kudo said with pride of a team that tied the Giants for the NPB lead in home runs during the regular season with 183.

Being stupid means being serious

Those of you who watch a lot of Japanese ball have probably caught on to this, but managers who let their players play or who try to be efficient with their resources, can be perceived as not trying hard enough to win. Thus, using one’s best hitters to sacrifice against a bunt shift, when a “successful” sacrifice will cost you runs, is perceived as showing fighting spirit.

Thus Kudo bunted with two-time batting champion Seiichi Uchikawa in the eighth inning, and brought in his ace reliever in the ninth with a six-run leave. There was no advantage to either move except to show you mean business.

And then there were the doctors

The 2000 Japan Series was known for something other than just the first postseason meeting between Oh and Nagashima. It was also the first Japan Series where the first three games were played on consecutive days, with the off day to allow for travel from Tokyo to Fukuoka taking place after the teams played Game 3 in Fukuoka.

This proves that not all Japan Series stupidity actually takes place during the series. NPB rules require all teams to secure their home stadium in case they play in the Japan Series, but some unnamed Daiei Hawks executive decided prior to the team’s pennant in 1999 that there was no chance the PL doormats would be in the 2000 series, and rented out Fukuoka Dome one day for a neural surgeon convention — the day when Game 3 was supposed to take place.

NPB games, news of Oct. 13, 2019

The Hawks and Giants will meet in the Japan Series for a record 11th time after they clinched their league’s Climax Series final stages on Sunday with two games to spare. The Japan Series started in 1950 when Japanese pro ball split into two leagues and expanded. The Giants had played nine against the Nankai Hawks, who were sold to the Daiei supermarket chain in 1989. Daiei and Yomiuri played the other one, in 2000.

Hawks 9, Lions 3

At MetLife Dome, Kenta Imamiya had the game of his life, going 5-for-5 with a walk, three home runs and six RBIs as SoftBank won its seventh straight final stage game at Seibu’s stadium.

The Hawks are now into their third straight Japan Series, matching the three straight berths achieved twice by Nankai. The Japan Series starts on Saturday at Yafuoku Dome in Fukuoka.

Game highlights are HERE.

Giants 4, Tigers 1

At Tokyo Dome, Yomiuri’s bullpen inherited a two-on, no-out situation in the sixth inning and retired 12 straight batters to end Hanshin’s season after the Giants scored the go-ahead run on a two-out bunt single.

With Yasuhiro Yamamoto on third with a double and a sacrifice, No. 3 hitter Yoshihiro Maru, the Central League’s MVP the last two seasons, dropped a bunt down the third base line. Starting pitcher Yuki Nishi was all over it, but threw wide to first on what would have been a close play. Maru was credited with an RBI infield single.

“I saw (third baseman Yusuke) Oyama playing back a bit, so I thought I could beat it out,” Maru said, although no one accounted for the great jump Yamamoto had down the line.

Giants starter Yuki Takahashi allowed a run on two hits but walked four batters. The Giants tied it 1-1 when Kazuma Okamoto, the CS MVP, hit his third homer of the stage. Alex Guerrero hit his second of the stage, a two-run shot in the seventh to put the game out of reach.

Game highlights are HERE.