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.
- 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.