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2007 Nippon Series
The 2007 Japan Series was the 58th match-up of the champions of the Central League and Pacific League, Japan's top two circuits. The Series was a rematch of the 2006 Japan Series, which Nippon Ham had won in five games. Both teams had worse records in the regular season than in 2006. Chunichi had not had the CL's best record but the Central League had gone to a playoff format for the first time in its 58-year history and they topped the Yomiuri Giants in the postseason. Chunichi won in five games to end a 53-year title drought. The Series MVP was Norihiro Nakamura.
Nippon Ham Fighters
The Fighters were coming off their first title ever and were hoping to repeat in the last games managed by Trey Hillman before his departure for the US. The team had overcome the loss of their superstar, Michihiro Ogasawara, to free agency following their 2006 title. RF Atsunori Inaba (.334/.387/.505, 39 2B) had won the batting title, led the Pacific League in hits and finished second in OBP. CF Hichori Morimoto (.300/.355/.372) had paced the league in runs (91) and finished third in steals (31). The lone 20-homer man was DH Fernando Seguignol (.249/.350/.428, 21 HR), who had declined significantly from a year before. Pitching was impressive as Yu Darvish (15-5, 1.82) and Ryan Glynn (9-8, 2.21) had finished second and third, respectively, in the PL in ERA. Masaru Takeda (9-4, 2.54) was a fine #3 starter. The bullpen was anchored by Micheal Nakamura (1-1, 34 Sv, 2.16, second in the PL in saves) and Hisashi Takeda (7-6, 2 Sv, 2.42).
Managed by Hiromitsu Ochiai, Chunichi was in their 8th Japan Series and trying to reverse course following their 1-6 record in previous appearances. They had not let the CL in either ERA or runs scored and had lost their star, RF Kosuke Fukudome (.294/.443/.520) to injury during the season. 38-year-old 1B Tyrone Woods (.270/.418/.530, 35 HR, 102 RBI) remained effective, leading the CL with 121 walks and finishing second in OBP and home runs. 3B Norihiro Nakamura (.293/.359/.477) bounced back from a couple rocky years in a great comeback off-the-scrap-heap campaign, while LF Masahiko Morino (.294/.366/.458) drove in 97 in a fine season. No one starter stood out as effective, with Kenshin Kawakami (12-8, 3.55), Kenichi Nakata (14-8, 3.59) and Kenta Asakura (12-7, 3.36) all winning in double digits. Closer Hitoki Iwase (2-4, 43 Sv, 2.44) was second in the CL in saves.
Game 1: Darvish ties record
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Fighters: Yu Darvish W (1-0)
Dragons: Kenshin Kawakami L (0-1)
Home Runs Fernando Seguignol (1)
In a pitching duel, one mistake cost Chunichi the game. Kawakami retired 21 straight batters and allowed just two hits, becoming the first pitcher in Japan Series history to throw a 2-hit complete game and lose. Unfortunately, the first was a rocky frame. He walked leadoff hitter Hichori Morimoto, the first time he had issued a base on balls to the opponent's first batter since June of 2005. After Morimoto was bunted to second, Kawakami also gave a free pass to batting champion Inaba. That brought up cleanup man Seguignol. Kawakami got ahead of the slugger 0-2. Catcher Motonobu Tanishige called for a pitch out of the zone but Kawakami threw a flat 89 mph fastball which Seguignol hit into the right-field seats for a 3-0 lead. It was the lone blemish for the Dragons' long-time ace (who would allow one more hit and no more walks), but it would be all Nippon Ham needed. It had been 13 years since a team had won a Japan Series game with just two hits.
In the 4th, Morino singled and Woods drew a walk from Darvish, but DH Kazuyoshi Tatsunami struck out (one of three whiffs for the all-time NPB doubles leader) and Nakamura grounded out to second. 2B Masahiro Araki singled in the sixth. SS Hirokazu Ibata had a fine infield hit that allowed the speedy Araki to move to third (he had been running on the play). Morino then hit a deep shot to center but Morimoto caught it. Araki scored on the play for the game's last run. Darvish settled down from there to finish a 13-strikeout gem. Darvish tied Kimiyasu Kudoh's Japan Series record for strikeouts in a nine-inning contest. Kudoh had set the mark in 1999. Darvish was timed at 95 mph.
Game 2: The Dragons wake up
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Fighters: - Fernando Seguignol (2)
Chunichi would not be shut down this time around. Araki opened the game with a single and stole second, then took third on a bloop hit by Ibata. Morino hit his second sacrifice fly of the Series to put the Dragons ahead quickly against Glynn. In the 4th, Glynn walked Morino, Woods and Tatsunami with one out. Nakamura doubled to right, scoring Morino and Woods for a 3-0 lead. Mitsuo Yoshikawa relieved Glynn but was just as wild, walking two of the next three batters to force in a run. The five walks set a Japan Series record for an inning. That was all Kenichi Nakata would need, as Nippon Ham got just four hits and a Seguignol homer again provided all the offense they had. This time, though, Seguignol's blast came with no one aboard, while Chunichi's offense remained strong.
RF Byung-kyu Lee, the disappointing South Korean import, cracked a 2-run homer in the sixth, and Morino added a two-run blast of his own the next inning to make the final 8-1 margin. Morino finished the day 1 for 2 with 2 walks, 2 runs, 3 RBI and a sacrifice fly while Araki (2 for 5, 2 runs, 2 steals) and Nakamura (2 for 3, BB, R, 2 RBI) also played well to tie the Series.
Game 3: Starting with a bang
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Home Runs - None
Hall-of-Famer Shigeru Sugishita threw out the first pitch.
For the second straight game, the Dragons won in a rout. The Fighters' starter, Masaru Takeda, could not make it out of the first inning. He hit the Chunichi leadoff man, Araki, who stole second. Ibata flew out but Morino walked. Woods singled in Araki, then Nakamura doubled home Morino. When Lee doubled Woods in, Takeda was yanked. Brian Sweeney was no better. Little-used CF Ryosuke Hirata singled. Tanishige then singled up the middle to drive in Nakamura and Lee for a 5-0 lead. Nippon Ham must have been glad that the game was being played on the road as they got to face the opposing pitcher, Asakura, who became out number 2 with a sacrifice bunt. The carnage wasn't over as Araki singled home Hirata to make it 6-0. Ibata lined a single to right to score Tanishige for a 7-0 lead and Nippon Ham brought in their third pitcher of the inning. The seven hits in seven straight at-bats marked a Japan Series record.
The game was quiet after that, with Asakura dominating for 7 innings before turning it over to the bullpen. Tanishige (3 for 4, 3 RBI) and Nakamura (3 for 5, 2 doubles, 2 runs) provided the veteran leadership in this one while Morino (the lone hitless Chunichi position player starter) coaxed three walks as the Dragons went ahead, 2 games to 1.
Game 4: One win away
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Home Runs - None
Rookie Mitsuo Yoshikawa became the first man right out of high school to start a Japan Series game since Kazuhisa Ishii in 1992 and the fifth ever. None of the prior four had won their game, and Yoshikawa struggled here.
Araki again got the Dragon offense going by leading off with an infield single. Yoshikawa plunked Ibata and Morino bunted both runners over. Woods grounded to 3B Eiichi Koyano, who bobbled the ball for an error as Araki scored. Yoshikawa then walked Nakamura to load the bases. Lee grounded to first and Seguignol threw to second for one, but the Fighters failed to turn the double play and Ibata came across to make it 2-0.
LF Takahito Kudo led off the 4th with a single and scored on a double by Makoto Kaneko to close the deficit to 2-1. Seguignol doubled with two out in the 5th and Koyano drew a four-pitch walk. Kudo then had an infield single to load the bags. Yoshihiro Suzuki relieved Ogasawara and walked Kaneko on four pitches to force in the tying run. Shinya Tsuruoka flew out to Lee in right to end the threat.
PH Atsushi Fujii drew a walk to start the bottom of the fifth. Araki bunted Fujii over and Ibata walked after fouling off a couple 2-strike pitches. Morino lined one into right field to load the bases. Yoshikawa then continued his wild ways with a wild pitch that let Chunichi go ahead for good, 4-3.
In the 7th, Ibata drew another walk and Morino doubled. Woods struck out swinging. After falling behind in the count 0-2, Nakamura then singled up the middle to drive in Ibata for a 4-2 lead. Neither team would score again.
Seguignol (1 for 1, 3 BB, run), Kudo (2 for 3, BB, run) and Kaneko (2 for 3 , 2 RBI) helped give Nippon Ham a little offense after their two bad games in a row. Inaba, the 2006 Series MVP, got his first hit of the Series and was just 1 for 14 to date.
Araki (2 for 3, R, SB) again was the Chunichi sparkplug while Ibata (0 for 1, 2 BB, HBP) scored twice despite going hitless. The Dragons were one win away from their first Japan Series title since 1954.
Game 5: A controversial finish
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Home Runs - None
In one of the most controversial decisions ever in Japan Series history, manager Hiromitsu Ochiai pulls Daisuke Yamai one inning away from a perfect game. The large crowd, which had been calling Yamai's name, appeared amazed at the move. Closer Iwase finished it off for the first perfect game in Series history. In his first start since winning the Sawamura Award, Darvish allows just one run and struck out 11 in 7 innings, but that's all Chunichi needed to end their 53-year drought of Series championships.
It was the first perfect game in Series history and the first combined perfect game ever in the 71-year history of Nippon Pro Baseball. Ochiai's gambles had paid off in starting Yamai (career record of 17-13) ahead of Kenshin Kawakami and in yanking his starter after 86 pitches in favor of one of the best relievers in Japanese history.
The longest perfect stretch in a Series game before was by Minoru Murayama in game two of the 1962 Japan Series. The previous record for consecutive retired batters ironically belonged to the bypassed ace Kawakami, with 23. It had been 13 years since Hiromi Makihara had thrown the most recent perfect game in NPB.
A Sports Nippon survey after the game found that 53% favored Ochiai's removal of Yamai in favor of Iwase, with 37% opposed.
The game's only run came in the second. Woods singled to left and Nakamura followed with another clutch hit, a double. Darvish struck out Lee, but Hirata hit a long fly to right to score Woods.
Chunichi hit just .228/.333/.322 and set a Series record with 42 strikeouts. Series MVP Nakamura (.444/.500/.667, 4 2B, 3 R, 4 RBI) and Araki (.350/.381/.350, 4 SB in 4 tries, 5 R) were the bright spots offensively while Lee managed to drive in five runs despite going 2 for 18 at the plate. The team still managed to score a decent 23 runs despite the low OPS. On the mound, Asakura (1-0, 1.29), Nakata (1-0, 1.13) and Yamai (1-0, 0.00, 8 perfect innings) all dazzled, while no staff member had an ERA over 4.
The Fighters hit .147, a new low for a five game set. They had a .215 OBP and .233 slugging percentage. They had the fewest hits for a five-game set, 22 and had the fewest total bases ever (35). Their 7 runs tied the lowest mark in Series history. Among the poor performers were last year's Series MVP and 2007 PL batting champ Inaba (.059/.158/.118), Koyano (0 for 10), Morimoto (.158/.200/.158) and 2B Kensuke Tanaka (.056/.056/.056). The only hitter to fare well was Seguignol (.333/.500/1.000), who scored 4 of their seven runs and drove in 4. Seguignol was involved in all but one Nippon Ham run this Series. Darvish (1-1, 1.13) was the bright spot on the hill and set the record for a 5-game Series with 24 strikeouts. Less successful were Glynn (0-1, 10.80), Kazumasa Kikuchi (27.00), Brian Sweeney (54.00), Masaru Takeda (0-1, 135.00) and Yoshinori Tateyama (7.71).
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