Bold indicates league leaders
Bold indicates league leaders
Entering this season, his second as Hanshin manager, Hoshino massively overhauled the roster. Twenty-four players from the 2002 squad either retired, were cut, traded, or left through free agency. The new blood infused into the clubhouse included none other than Tomoaki Kanemoto, who exercised his free agency rights and left the Hiroshima Carp behind. The team traded for veteran pitcher Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi (Nippon Ham Fighters) and also brought in Jeff Williams and Hideki Irabu from the major leagues. Furthermore, to fill out the roster, the club drafted an incredible twelve players, including future closer Tomoyuki Kubota.
Despite losing the season opener, Hanshin went off on a torrid pace through the season’s first four months. April was the first of four consecutive months in which the team won at least 15 games. In 5 games against the Giants that month, the team put up an incredible 4-0-1 record, scoring 38 runs. The Tigers sat in first place straight through from April. May saw the team go 18-6, with Irabu taking home the pitcher of the month award (5 GP, 3W 1L, 1.46 ERA, 42 K) for the Central. In June, the team would see its 10-game home winning streak come to an end, but the 15-5 record on the month meant it already had 50 wins and a comfortable 12.5 game lead over the second place Chunichi Dragons. Staff ace Kei Igawa (4 GP, 3 W 0 L, 1 SO, 3.07 ERA) gave Hanshin its second straight pitcher of the month. A 7-1 run in July before the all-star break gave the team an incredible 58-22-1 record, and the magic number countdown started earlier than in any season in league history on July 8th. The team would send 10 players to the All-Star Game (Igawa, Irabu, Akihiro Yano, Shinjiro Hiyama, Makoto Imaoka, George Arias, Atsushi Fujimoto, Kanemoto, Norihiro Akahoshi and Osamu Hamanaka, who was unable to attend).
Hanshin won 6 of 7 immediately after the break, and would end the month 15-5 once again. This time, Imaoka (20 GP, 7 HR, 22 RBI, .458 AVG) would take home hitter of the month, and Igawa (4 GP, 4 W 0 L, 3 CG, 2.57 ERA) would earn pitcher of the month for the second consecutive time. The team reached 30 games over .500 for the first time in CL history, and after July 25, were 40 over. It became the fastest team to 60 wins in league history on July 21.
As August rolled around, the team cooled off for the first time all season, although at this point, no one was catching them. On August 16, they became the fastest team ever to 70 wins, and despite a losing record for the month (11 W 12 L – and only because it ended the month on a 5-game winning streak) it still had a 16-game lead over second-place Yomiuri. September had its ups and downs, and although the club was on a 6-game winless streak, it had a chance to win the pennant at home on September 15th against the Hiroshima Carp. The visitors took a 2-run lead in the third inning, thanks to a 2-run home run by Andy Sheets, who would be an integral part of the 2005 championship team. Yano would score in the fifth to cut the lead in half, and Atsushi Kataoka evened the score in the 8th with a solo shot to right. In the bottom of the ninth, with runners on all bases and one out, Akahoshi stepped up to the plate. He took the first pitch he saw for a ride over the right fielder’s head, and the Tigers walked off the field having done their part to end the day as champs. However, there was one problem: their magic number sat at 1, and there were still night games to be played in Tokyo. Several hours later, the stadium still packed with fans, the final out was recorded in the Yokohama/Yakult game. The magic number was no more. Hanshin had its first pennant in 18 years.
Hoshino’s first words upon being interviewed in front of the masses was “I’m exhausted! (あ〜、しんどかった！)” The season would play itself out with the team exchanging wins and losses, but earning a franchise-best 87 wins. Eight days after the Tigers played game 140, they would start the Nippon Series in Fukuoka against Sadaharu Oh’s Daiei Hawks.
Game 1 featured a battle of two 20-game winners. Despite a good chance in the first inning, the Tigers were unable to score. The Hawks got on the board in the bottom of the second on three hits. Another chance came in the next inning, but a sharp liner to third (with Munenori Kawasaki poised to get home) resulted in a double play to end the threat. The very next inning, Yano hit a two-run triple after a couple of walks, and the Tigers took the lead. It was short-lived, though, as Kenji Johjima hit a home run and several other players combined for the go-ahead score. The teams exchanged runs in the sixth, and the Tigers took the lead back one last time in the seventh on a Hiyama single to center. However, Hanshin’s relievers were unable to hold back the Daiei attack, and with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Hawks walked off the field winners. (Click here for a 21-minute video of the whole game.) Final Score: Hawks 5x, Tigers 4
Game 2 was a complete bloodbath, and it was all Hanshin’s blood on the ground. Hideki Irabu started but surrendered 6 straight hits (and 4 runs) in the second. Another solo shot by Johjima in the third knocked Irabu out, but the onslaught continued. The Hawks got 5 runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth, as the Hawks romped to a two-game lead. (You don’t want to see the video highlights, do you? If you do, find them yourself!) Final Score: Hawks 13, Tigers 0
Game 3 was delayed by a day due to rain, but the series returned to Koshien, which seemed to breathe new life into Hanshin. Starter Trey Moore gave up the game’s first run in the first inning off three straight hits. Kanemoto brought the game back to a draw in the bottom of the fourth with a solo shot to deep center. Both teams got runners in scoring position on several occasions, but no one scored the go-ahead run until the bottom of the tenth. Arias fought hard for an 8-pitch walk and advanced on a Hiyama single. Yano took an intentional walk to load the bases, putting the game in Fujimoto’s hands. He hit a ball deep to center, scoring Arias on a sacrifice fly to end this one in a walk-off. (Click here for a 21-minute video of the whole game.) Final Score: Tigers 2, Hawks 1
For the first time in the series, Hanshin drew first blood in Game 4. Hiyama punched in two runners on a double to right center, and Kataoka brought him home on a single. The Hawks got one back on a Matsunaka solo home run in the second, and then it was a battle of the arms for a while after that. In the bottom of the sixth, Kanemoto hit a homer for the second straight game, stretching the lead back to 3, but in the top of the seventh, the Hawks bats got to Igawa, who left the mound with the bases juiced and a one-run lead. Unfortunately, Yuya Andoh pushed the tying run across the plate with a walk. In the next inning, he committed a bases-loaded error to give the Hawks a slim lead. Kanemoto’s walk and steal put him in a position to tie the game in the bottom half, thanks to an Arias single. This one went to extra innings as well, and with the bases empty and one out, this happened:
Series tied. (Click here for a 30-minute video of the whole game.) Asked to hit another homer the next day, Kanemoto said, “I don’t know if I can, but we hope to back the Hawks into a corner tomorrow!” Final Score: Tigers 6, Hawks 5
He hit one early in Game 5. It was another solo job, but it gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead after one inning. That lead evaporated in the top of the next inning as Valdes hit a two-run bomb off Shimoyanagi. It wasn’t until the bottom of the sixth that the Tigers got the runs back, as Hiyama took a fat pitch and sent it into shallow left to score two. Thanks to a clutch relief appearance by Andoh, who redeemed his messy pitching in Game 4, as well as stingy pitching from Williams, who struck out 3 of the 4 Hawks he faced, the Tigers held their precarious lead right to the end. (Click here for a 19-minute video of the whole game.) They would take a series lead back to Fukuoka. Final Score: Tigers 3, Hawks 2
It didn’t take long for the Hawks to reassert their dominance in Game 6. Kawasaki reached on a push bunt and Tadahito Iguchi launched a 2-run shot to left off Irabu in the bottom of the first.They would add another in the third when Kawasaki scored on a Fujimoto error. Hiyama got Hanshin on the board in the top of the 4th, but the Hawks got that run back in the bottom of the sixth off reliever Shinobu Fukuhara. They would add another insurance run in the bottom of the eighth with a Valdez home run. This series was going the distance. (Click here for a 20-minute video of the whole game.) Final Score: Hawks 5, Tigers 1
The Tigers were given a golden opportunity in the opening frame of Game 7 (runners on first and second with no outs), but could not capitalize. The bottom of the inning saw Moore give up two runs on a hit, walk and double. They would extend their lead in the third with a 2-run shot by Iguchi and a solo blast by Johjima. Kentaro Sekimoto put the Tigers on the board in the top of the fifth, but with two runners on base, the team’s cleanup hitters failed to decrease the lead any further. Johjima hit his 4th homer of the series in the bottom of the 6th, leaving no doubt about the outcome in this one. The Tigers got just a solo home run by Katsumi Hirosawa in the top of the 9th the rest of the way. Despite two shots at putting the Hawks away, the Tigers came up short. (To see the final game of the series in highlight form, click here.) Final Score: Hawks 6, Tigers 2
League MVP: Kei Igawa
Top Batter: Makoto Imaoka (.340)
Most Stolen Bases: Norihiro Akahoshi (61)
Best ERA: Kei Igawa (2.80)
Most Wins: Kei Igawa (20)
Best Winning Percentage: Kei Igawa (.800)
Sawamura Award: Kei Igawa
All-Central League Team: Kei Igawa (P), Akihiro Yano (C), George Arias (1B), Makoto Imaoka (2B), Norihiro Akahoshi (OF)
Golden Gloves: Yano (C), Arias (1B), Imaoka (2B), Akahoshi (OF)