* Bold denotes League Top
Having traded away second ace Masaaki Koyama in the offseason (and acquiring a much needed slugger in Kazuhiro Yamauchi), the team needed a pitcher to step up and supplement Minoru Murayama. Pitching coach Shigeru Sugishita went to work on Gene Bacque, who had great potential but also struggled with control and was in danger of being released. The results speak for themselves. But first, a look back on the season itself. Murayama was the team’s Opening Day pitcher, and he got the team off to a strong start, shutting out the Hiroshima Carp (surrendering just 4 hits), while diminutive shortstop Yoshio Yoshida hit the game-winning home run.
By the end of April, the team found itself 4 games over .500, but stayed around that mark until a roughly one-month stretch (May 21-June 16) in which it went 16-3, backed mostly by strong pitching from Murayama and Bacque. (Two of the losses were shutouts.) Another stretch of mediocrity went almost right up until the team’s annual “Road of Death” during which Koshien was occupied by the national high school tournament. The 16-game grueling road trip would see the team go 10-5-1, and the team carried that momentum forward, going 4-1-2 in its next home stand at Koshien. Unfortunately, the team went 3-10 to start September, and found itself in a tough situation come pennant race time.
The team’s comeback at the end of the 1962 season was impressive, but this one would be an even greater miracle. Hanshin had just 7 games left on its schedule and first-place Taiyo just 6, yet 3.5 games separated the two. Four of those would be head-to-head, and if Hanshin dropped even one of those, it would be eliminated. To make matters worse, Murayama was unavailable to pitch for the remainder of the season, as he dealt with family issues. Manager Fujimoto had allegedly given up on the season, but wanted to make it as hard and painful for Taiyo to clinch as possible.
The first two games were a doubleheader in Kawasaki (Kanagawa Prefecture). It was raining so profusely that no one would have objected to calling the games, but perhaps Taiyo felt an urgency to clinch as quickly as possible, so the game went on. Bacque took to the mound in the first game and threw nine strong innings to lead Hanshin to victory. He also came in as a reliever in the second game in the eighth inning and was the winning pitcher in that one as well. Because of an incoming typhoon, the next two (at Koshien) were delayed by a day, so on September 26, yet another double-header was scheduled for the top two teams. Bacque once again started in the first game, and once again went 9 innings, this time shutting out the Whales completely. However, in the final head-to-head game between the two, Hanshin struggled to get men on base, managing just two hits through 6 innings. Down two runs with just three innings to go, Taiyo was starting to get ready to celebrate on Hanshin’s holy ground. Coaches in their dugout were already shaking hands and congratulating each other. Yoshida says he could see this from where he was standing at short, and it made his blood boil. The rest of the team clearly felt the same. Eiji Fujii hit a solo home run in the seventh, and Yamauchi brought Yoshida home in the eighth. With the bases loaded and two outs and Namiki standing at the dish, the Taiyo pitcher threw a wild pitch. At the time, the ground and low wall behind home plate was made of concrete, and the ball caromed back towards home. The runner on third base, Kingo Motoyashiki, dashed for home nonetheless, narrowly beating the tag and giving Hanshin a 3-2 lead. And who else would they bring in but Bacque to preserve the lead?
Now all that was left was for Hanshin to win two of its remaining three games to complete its theft of the pennant. Bacque threw yet another complete game on two days’ rest to beat Kokutetsu at Koshien. The next day saw Hanshin needing to take one of two games from Chunichi in a double header at home. Had they lost the first game, it is entirely possible that Bacque would have gotten the nod in the second game for a chance at the pennant and his 30th win on the year. His services would not be needed, though. In the first game (started by Ishikawa), the bats exploded. Two runs in the first (the first of which came off the bat of Yamauchi on an RBI double), three more in the fourth (including a run knocked in by Yoshida), two more in the fifth, three in the seventh and two more in the eighth. When the dust settled, Hanshin had its second pennant in 3 seasons, winning handily 12-3. Click here for a radio broadcast of the final out of the game.
Perhaps it is fitting that 1964 was the year the summer Olympics were hosted in Tokyo. This series featured two teams in the Kansai area and was dubbed the Midosuji Series. It would also be the first Nippon Series to feature night games, and resulted in a rule change: for the first time in league history, a set time (10:30pm) determined the game’s end in the case of extra innings. (Until this point, because stadiums were not equipped for night games, sunset mean tie games had to end.) Despite the excitement of an all-Kansai series, poor attendance at Koshien Stadium (fewer than 20,000 at three of the four, including an all-time Nippon Series low 15,172 for Game 7) contrasted with full houses at the less spacious Osaka Stadium.
Nankai Hawks ace Joe Stanka brought his best in Game 1 (October 1, Koshien), as Hanshin got just three singles and a walk all night. Its best chance came in the sixth when with runners on first and second and just one out, Yoshida hit into an inning-ending double play. Tigers starter Murayama was fairly stingy himself, allowing just 7 hits in 8 innings, but when your team doesn’t score, one run is enough to hand the loss to your starter. Nankai got one in the second inning and another (unearned) in the fifth, due to an error by Yoshida. Final Score: Hawks 2, Tigers 0
Hanshin would get its revenge early and often in Game 2 (October 2, Koshien). Yoshida scored on an error in the first, and the team would get three more before the end of the sixth inning. By the way Nankai figured Bacque out in the seventh, it was too late. A run in the seventh and another in the eighth was all they managed, and Hanshin put any thoughts of comeback to rest in the bottom of the eighth as they scored an insurance run on a balk by Nankai’s pitcher. Final Score: Tigers 5, Hawks 2 (Winning Pitcher: Bacque)
The Hawks went back to Stanka for Game 3 (October 4, Osaka), but this time Hanshin figured him out. The teams swapped runs in the second inning before Hanshin exploded for four in the top of the third (Fujii’s second home run of the game doing the bulk of the damage). Hanshin’s pitchers pieced together enough outs before Nankai could catch up, and the Tigers got their first series lead. Final Score: Tigers 5, Hawks 4 (Winning Pitcher: Ishikawa)
Game 4 (October 5, Osaka) was another close one. Yamauchi opened the scoring with a solo shot in the top of the first, but Nankai got to starter Murayama in the fourth and fifth innings to take a 2-run lead. However, Yamauchi wiped out his team’s debt the very next inning with a two-run blast. This game would remain knotted until the bottom of the ninth, when import first baseman Kent Hadley swatted a Murayama offering deep to right. Final Score: Hawks 5x, Tigers 4
Hanshin’s #4 starter, Pete Burnside, started the crucial Game 5 (October 6, Osaka). His hitters gave him a good lead to work with in the second inning when two home runs (Yoshinori Tsuji solo and Motoh Andoh 2-run) opened the scoring. Burnside survived a rough second inning and was steady through six, while Hanshin gave him more insurance runs with a Yoshida RBI single in the 4th, followed by two more in the seventh off four straight singles. Burnside ran out of gas in the bottom of the seventh, giving up a leadoff home run and leaving the game with no outs and runners on first and second. Those would both come around to score, but the Hawks were not able to mount a comeback beyond that, as Bacque came in for the game’s final two innings and surrendered just one hit. Final Score: Tigers 6, Hawks 3 (Winning Pitcher: Burnside)
The Tigers needed just one win in the final two home games of this series, and Game 6 (October 9, Koshien) featured a battle of the American aces. Bacque did not last long, though, giving up a walk and two doubles in the second, and then surrendered another run in the fourth off two singles and a sacrifice fly. The bats didn’t even come close to putting up a fight, as Joe Stanka kept everyone off the base paths until a one-out single in the fifth (the runner was stranded there). The only other man to reach base (in the sixth with one out) was the first half of a double play to end the inning. Stanka’s complete game shutout only required 99 pitches. Much like in 1962, Hanshin needed a win in its final game to earn the title. Final Score: Hawks 4, Tigers 0
With the season on the line, Nankai went back to their ace Stanka for Game 7 (October 10, Koshien). Hanshin responded with Murayama, who had already lost two games in this series. Make it three after this one. The Hawks got right down to work in the opening frame, getting three straight hits and producing two runs from them. Three more hits in the fourth (with a sac bunt in the middle of them) pushed a third run across the plate, and Murayama hit the showers early. Bacque came in and pitched 4 innings of clean relief, but it was too late. Hanshin couldn’t put together much more of a fight against Stanka than it had in Game 6. Two runners got into scoring position, but neither came around to score. Stanka got his second straight shutout (110 pitches) and his third win of the series. Once again, Hanshin comes up short in a hard-fought series. Final Score: Hawks 3, Tigers 0
All-Stars: Fujimoto (coach), Murayama (P, 5th time), Bacque (P, first time), Yoshida (SS, 11th time), Yamauchi (OF, 11th time), Fujii (OF, 2nd time)
Best ERA: Bacque (1.89)
Most Wins: Bacque (29)
Best Win Percentage: Ishikawa (.769)
Sawamura Award: Bacque
All-Central Team: Bacque (P, first time), Yoshida (SS, 8th time)
Fewest Strikeouts, Single Season: Yoshida (17 in 496 PA)
Fighting Spirit Award (Nippon Series): Yamauchi
* Usually, the league MVP is chosen from the pennant-winning team. However, this was the season in which Yomiuri Giants legend Sadaharu Oh set the NPB record for home runs in a single season with 55. The record would stand (amidst major controversy on several occasions) until Wladmir Balentien of the Yakult Swallows broke it with 60 in 2013. Apparently, Oh talked to Bacque about it and said the MVP should have gone to him, but Bacque was so thrilled to have been named Sawamura Award winner that he cared little that the MVP went to someone else.