2005 Nippon Series
The 2005 Japan Series was the 56th match-up of the champions of the Central League and Pacific League, Japan's top two circuits. For the second year in a row, the Pacific League team with the best record was not present as a playoff system introduced in 2004 enabled the regular-season runner-ups to take the pennant and the rights to face off for Japan's title.
Chiba Lotte Marines
The Marines had started off the season on a fine note and held first place for a long time, before getting passed up by the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, a free-spending contingent which boasted stars like Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Toshiya Sugiuchi, Kenji Johjima and Julio Zuleta. Chiba Lotte was a well-rounded team led by the pitching of submarine specialist Shunsuke Watanabe (15-4, 2.17) and a balanced staff which had six pitchers in double-digit wins. The offense also lacked a stand-out threat, though 2B Koichi Hori, SS Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 3B Toshiaki Imae and OF Matt Franco had all made the Best Nine and players like Saburo Omura, Kazuya Fukuura, Seung-Yeop Lee, Tomoya Satozaki and Benny Agbayani provided help. It was Chiba Lotte's first trip to the Japan Series and the franchise's first since they had been the Lotte Orions in 1974. They were managed by Bobby Valentine, a former Pacific Coast League Player of the Year in his second stint as the team's manager and third year overall.
Hanshin, arguably the most popular team in Japan, had not won a title since 1985. They had been in the finals two years earlier, though, and had a star-studded lineup which included MVP Tomoaki Kanemoto (.327/.429/.615, 40 HR), SB king Norihiro Akahoshi, 147-RBI-man Makoto Imaoka and three star relievers with ERAs of 2.12 or lower. Like Chiba Lotte, they lacked a weak spot in their lineup, though their bench was relatively weak. The manager was former star infielder Akinobu Okada, in his second year at the reigns.
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Marines: Naoyuki Shimizu W (1-0)
Game one was a fine effort for Chiba Lotte pitcher Naoyuki Shimizu, who allowed only one run in 7, using just 87 pitches and fanning six. Kanemoto and Imaoka, Hanshin's top offensive forces, were a combined 0 for 6 and Kanemoto hit into a double play with one out and two on in the top of the first. Forced to use a DH as they were playing in the Pacific League team's home stadium (Chiba Marine Stadium), Hanshin went to former star Atsushi Kataoka, who had done little during the season and struck out in all three trips to the plate. Young gun Imae went 4 for 4 with a double, homer, three runs and two RBI and he got help from Lee, Agbayani and Satozaki, all of whom homered as well (Satozaki and Agbayani each launching a 3-run bomb in the 7th). The game was called due to heavy fog but it is unlikely Hanshin would have been unable to turn things around.
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Marines: Shunsuke Watanabe W (1-0)
The Marines set a record by becoming the first team in the history of Japan Series play to score double-digit runs in consecutive outings. Submarine pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe held Hanshin to four hits and no runs and the heart of the order of Andy Sheets, Kanemoto and Imaoka were a combined 0 for 11. Imae continued his stellar play with another 4 for 4 day, setting a Series record for consecutive hits. Hanshin reliever Hirotaka Egusa set a dubious mark when he threw three wild pitches in a single inning (the 8th).
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Marines: Kazuya Fukuura 1
Hiroyuki Kobayashi continued the fine Chiba Lotte pitching, allowing one run on three hits in six innings, then three relievers each hurled a scoreless frame. Kanemoto was held hitless for the third consecutive contest. Imae had his consecutive-hit streak snapped at eight AB but still went 2 for 4 with a double, run and RBI. Kazuya Fukuura drove in four and picked up two hits. Despite homering in the first two games, Seung-Yeop Lee sat in the DH-less contest. He pinch-hit later in the game and replaced Agbayani in left field.
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Marines: Seung-Yeop Lee 1 (3)
Back in the lineup and batting 7th while playing left field, Lee put on a fine show to lead Chiba Lotte to the victory. Seung-Yeop hit a two-run homer in the second with Matt Franco aboard and then doubled in Franco in the 4th to knock out starter Naohisa Sugiyama and give Chiba Lotte a 3-0 lead. He added a double in the sixth and a single later for 9 total bases and a 4 for 4 day. Kanemoto finally got his first hit of the series, a single in the 4th. Hanshin rallied in the sixth but Akihiro Yano hit into an inning-ending double play and they did not get another hit. The final game had been the only competitive one of the series.
Chiba Lotte's sweep gave them their first-ever Japan Series title and it was the first Series in which the winning team was guided by an American manager. Imae, despite a hitless last game, was named MVP for his .667 average. Yano hit .417 and was given the Fighting Spirit Award for being the top player on the losing club. Overall, it was one of the most lopsided Japan Series in history.
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