2019 Japan Series
The 2019 Japan Series was the 70th match-up of the champions of the Central League and Pacific League, Japan's top two circuits. The Softbank Hawks won their third straight Series as the PL tied the CL at 35 titles apiece.
Softbank had finished second in the 2019 Pacific League under manager Kimiyasu Kudoh. They only outscored opponents 584-562 for the year, 4th in the PL in runs but allowed the fewest runs. They beat the Rakuten Golden Eagles 2 games to 1 in the playoffs and then upset the Seibu Lions four games to zero in the Climax Series. Kodai Senga (13-8, 2.79) and Rei Takahashi (12-6, 3.34) were 3rd and 4th in the PL in ERA and a strong bullpen included Yuito Mori (2-3, 35 Sv, 2.21), Liván Moinelo (3-1, 4 Sv, 1.52, 86 K in 59 1/3 IP), Shinya Kayama (2-2, Sv, 2.61) and Jumpei Takahashi (3-2, 2.65). With star Yuki Yanagita missing much of the season, two Cubans led the offense, Yurisbel Gracial (.319/.365/.595, 28 HR) and Alfredo Despaigne (.259/.355/.520, 36 HR) while Nobuhiro Matsuda (.260/.305/.483) smacked 30 homers.
Yomiuri had finished first in the CL then cruised past the Hanshin Tigers in the Climax Series, 3 games to 1. Unlike Softbank, they had an explosive offense, with a CL-high 663 runs. Their 573 runs allowed were 3rd-fewest. Among the bombers were Hayato Sakamoto (.312/.396/.575, 40 HR, 103 R), Kazuma Okamoto (.265/.343/.485, 31 HR, 95 RBI), Yoshihiro Maru (.292/.388/.495, 27 HR, 89 RB) and Alex Guerrero (.237/.337/.526, 21 HR). Shun Yamaguchi (15-4, 2.91) was 3rd in the CL in ERA. Kota Nakagawa (4-3, 16 Sv, 2.37), Rubby De La Rosa (1-0, 8 Sv, 2.25) and Hirokazu Sawamura (2-2, Sv, 2.61) were the top relievers.
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Hawks: Yurisbel Gracial
The Hawks began their title defense with a good showing at home. They fell behind in the top of the 2nd when Yomiuri DH Shinnosuke Abe (who had announced he would retire at year's end) took Senga deep, but Senga allowed only two other hits and no other runs in seven innings. In the bottom of the 2nd, the hosts took the lead for good. RF Akira Nakamura doubled off Yamaguchi and LF Gracial homered. It remained 2-1 until the bottom of the 6th when Nakamura hit a sacrifice fly to score 2B Taisei Makihara. In the 7th, Scott Mathieson replaced Yamaguchi and 3B Matsuda greeted him with a double. After a sacrifice bunt, Kazuto Taguchi relieved Mathieson. PH Keizo Kawashima drew a walk and stole second. Makihara singled in both runners to make it 5-1. SS Kenta Imamiya and CF Yanagita had back-to-back singles for another run, then DH Shuhei Fukuda grounded in Imamiya. The Giants got one more run, when 1B Takumi Oshiro homered off Mori, but it was not nearly enough.
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Rei Takahashi was perfect for the first five innings but C.C. Mercedes also turned in a gem, countering him zero for zero through that time. In the 6th, Takahashi lost his perfecto when he hit 3B Akihiro Wakabayashi. In the 7th, 1B Okamoto had a two-out single to end the bid for a no-hitter. Mercedes left after six, having allowed only one hit and two walks.
Once Mercedes left, the Hawks struck quickly. DH Despaigne hit into an error by Wakabayashi and LF Gracial singled. 3B Matsuda then smacked a three-run bomb to dead center for the winning blow. In the 8th, CF Yanagita took Toshiki Sakurai deep to make it 4-0. PH Kenji Akashi drew a walk. Kyosuke Takagi replaced Sakurai and surrendered a two-run shot to RF Fukuda to make it 6-0.
Yomiuri again got some offense in the 9th that was not enough. Jumpei Takahashi walked three of four batters he faced, then Mori relieved. Okamoto and DH Abe both singled in runs and Yomiuri got one more before Mori closed it out.
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Giants: Yoshiyuki Kamei 2
Hawks: Yurisbel Gracial (2)
Going on the road did not slow down Softbank at all. RF Yoshiyuki Kamei did get the team off on a good note when he homered off Rick van den Hurk to open the bottom of the first. In the 2nd, RF Gracial countered with a solo shot against Yuki Takahashi. In the third, Softbank chased Takahashi. 2B Kawashima had a one-out walk and SS Imamiya singled. With two away, LF Despaigne singled in Kawashima. Kamei countered with his second long ball off van den Hurk but Yomiuri got no more runs, held to two hits in the final five by Shuta Ishikawa, Hiroshi Kaino, Moinelo and Mori.
The Hawks took the lead for good in the 4th. With one out, LF Seiichi Uchikawa singled off Shosei Togo and C Takuya Kai coaxed a walk. Van den Hurk hit into an error by Togo. PH Yuya Hasegawa's sacrifice fly made it 3-2. Imamiya singled and Togo threw four straight balls to Yanagita to make it 4-2. Despaigne singled in two more for a three-RBI day. Neither team would score the rest of the way.
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Giants: Kazuma Okamoto
Hawks: Yurisbel Gracial (3)
Shortly after it was announced there would be no Sawamura Award winner in 2019, Yomiuri went to the two-time defending champ, Tomoyuki Sugano, his first appearance in over a month due to injury. Softbank countered with 38-year-old Tsuyoshi Wada, who had won the 2003 Japan Series finale as a rookie but had never won a Series game since. Wada was on today, allowing only one hit, two walks and no runs in five to get the big win.
Sugano matched Wada goose egg for goose egg through three. Things fell apart for him in the 4th. SS Imamiya singled and stole second. The Cubans then struck again as LF Despaigne singled and RF Gracial homered yet again, his third of the Series. Yomiuri made it closer in the 6th. With one out, Robert Suárez walked SS Sakamoto and 1B Okamoto hit a two-out, two-run homer.
The Hawks got crucial insurance in the 7th. With one out against Nakagawa, 1B Fukuda hit into an error. 3B Matsuda singled and PH Hasegawa hit into a run-scoring miscue. Yomiuri again made it a one-run game in the home half of the 7th. PH Shinnosuke Shigenobu singled against Kaino. Kamei singled as well. With two outs, Moinelo relieved and CF Maru doubled off the wall to make it 4-3 but Moinelo got Okamoto to escape the jam. In the bottom of the 9th, RF Kamei drew a two-out walk from Mori to bring up Sakamoto, a serious MVP candidate, but he struck out to end it. Yomiuri's big 2-3-4 combo of Sakamoto, Maru and Okamoto finished the Series 5 for 42.
Gracial was named Series MVP. Softbank became the first team since the Seibu Lions (1990-1992) to win three straight Series.
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