2006 Nippon Series
The 2006 Japan Series was the 57th match-up of the champions of the Central League and Pacific League, Japan's top two circuits. For the first time since it switched to a playoff system in 2004, the Pacific League sent the team with the best regular-season record to the Series. For the second consecutive year, the PL champion was guided by an American manager.
Nippon Ham Fighters
The Fighters were one of the least distinguished clubs in league history, having only won one prior pennant, back in 1981. Having won a tight regular season race, they had no problem in the playoffs to advance to the Series. The club was led by the offensive trio of 1B/PL MVP Michihiro Ogasawara (.313/.397/.573, the league leader in slugging and homers ), DH Fernando Seguignol (.295/.356/.532, 26 HR) and RF Atsunori Inaba (.307/.352/.522, 26 HR) in the 3-4-5 slots. Tomoya Yagi (12-8, 2.48) and sophomore sensation Yu Darvish (12-5, 2.89) led the staff, while a fine bullpen included Micheal Nakamura (5-1, 39 Sv, 2.19), Hideki Okajima (2-2, 4 Sv, 2.14) and Hisashi Takeda (5-3, 3 Sv, 2.04). The pitchers allowed the fewest runs in the league.
Returning to its second Series in three years under non-traditional skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai, Chunichi had overcome a strong finish by the Hanshin Tigers to claim the Central League title. A balanced approach tied the Yakult Swallows for the league lead in runs (669) while having the lowest ERA, 3.10. While the offense had few weak spots, there were two key leaders - RF/CF Kosuke Fukudome (.357/.438/.653) led the league in runs (117), average, OBP and slugging, while old-timer 1B Tyrone Woods (.305/.402/.635) had led in homers (47), RBI (114), total bases (332) and walks (84) and was second to Fukudome in OBP and slugging. Both were considered top MVP candidates - Fukudome won the award; Woods finished second. On the mound, Mitsuru Sato (9-4, 2.65) and Kenshin Kawakami (17-7, 2.51, third in MVP voting) were the top starters while the bullpen was led by Masafumi Hirai (5-3, 2.20), Hitoki Iwase (2-2, 1.30, 40 Sv) and Yoshihiro Suzuki (1-0, 1 Sv, 1.70).
Game 1: Kawakami hurls Chunichi to victory
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Home Runs None
The first pitch was thrown by Hall-of-Famer Morimichi Takagi.
19-year-old Yu Darvish became the first teenager to pitch in the Japan Series since 1987. He ran into trouble in the bottom of the second when he walked Tyrone Woods and allowed a double to 3B Masahiko Morino. LF Kazuki Inoue was walked intentionally to face veteran C Motonobu Tanishige, who singled in two. Three walks hurt Kenshin Kawakami in the third, Fernando Seguignol singled in Hichori Morimoto and Tsuyoshi Shinjo added a sacrifice fly to tie it. Kawakami would allow no more scores. Singles by Woods, Morino (on a play on which Darvish had a good chance had he not hesitated) and Inoue made it 3-2 Chunichi in the bottom of the third. The Dragons relied on Kawakami's hurling the rest of the way.
Game 2: Nippon Ham ties it up
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Fighters: Fernando Seguignol
In the first, the Fighters aimed for revenge for game one with a quick run when Seguignol singled in Hichori Morimoto but light-hitting SS Hirokazu Ibata homered off of rookie Tomoya Yagi in the bottom of the frame to tie the contest at one. In the bottom of the 4th, Fukudome took Yagi deep for a 2-1 Dragons lead. After being almost untouchable after the 2nd, 40-year-old Masahiro Yamamoto faded in the 7th. Fellow veteran Tanishige erred on a grounder by Inaba and Tsuyoshi Shinjo followed with a single to move the runner to third. Shinjo then swiped second and SS Makoto Kaneko singled in both runners, Tsuyoshi sliding in headfirst to home to beat Inoue's throw. CF Alex Ochoa and Tanishige singled for Chunichi in the bottom of the inning but PH Kazuyoshi Tatsunami and 2B Masahiro Araki grounded out. Seguignol added a 2-run homer in the 8th and Nippon Ham closer Micheal Nakamura put it away with a 1-2-3 ninth to seal the deal. Yamamoto fell to 0-4 in his career in the Japan Series; he was the first 40-year-old in CL history to pitch in the Series. Nippon Ham catcher Satoshi Nakajima singled in the 9th to become the first player to get a hit for three teams in Series play.
Game 3: Inaba powers the way
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Fighters: Atsunori Inaba
Chunichi got ahead early when Fukudome singled in Araki with one out in the top of the first, but rookie Masaru Takeda (the third straight young arm to go for Nippon Ham) allowed no more runs. In the bottom of the first, Morimoto singled. 2B Kensuke Tanaka bunted and Chunichi catcher Tanishige tried to get the runner at second, but the gamble failed and they had two on with none out. Ogasawara then smacked a two-run double into left-center for his first hit of the series. Seguignol singled and a sacrifice fly by Inaba made it 3-1 Nippon Ham. The Dragons got no closer against Takeda, Takeda, Okajima and Nakamura, while Inaba tacked a 3-run homer in the bottom of the 8th against Atsushi Nakazato to provide more than enough protection. It was notable for being the first Japan Series game ever played in Hokkaido Prefecture. The Dragons were limited by three double-play grounders.
Game 4: A foot foul makes all the difference
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Home Runs None
The Dragons again tried for an early rally on an Ibata single and Woods walk but Tatsunami (at DH) flew out to end that threat against Satoru Kanemura. It was Kanemura's first appearance of the post-season after being barred from the playoffs by Nippon Ham after questioning a pitching change by manager Trey Hillman late in the year. In the bottom of the third, Morimoto maintained his fine pace with a triple, then scored on a Tanaka double. Ogasawara and Seguignol were both plunked to load the bases but Inaba struck out and Shinjo lined out. Chunichi got Inoue to third in the 5th but Kanemura fanned Fukudome to end that bid. In the bottom of the 5th, Ogasawara doubled and Seguignol walked. Inaba continued to be the top RBI threat, doubling in his fellow sluggers with a drive to left-center. Against reliever Yoshihiro Suzuki, Shinjo singled to put men on the corners, but PH Jose Macias's grounder to Araki was well-played and Araki threw home to catch Inaba in a run-down and prevent further damage. With a tired bullpen, Hillman brought in the unreliable Brad Thomas in the sixth and he allowed a Woods double and a one-out Masahiko Morino walk before being replaced by Yoshinori Tateyama, who retired Yoshinori Ueda. Tanishige was hit by a pitch in the HBP-happy game to load the bases. Inoue hit a hard shot to right but it fell a foot foul or else Chunichi might have won the game. Tateyama then put him down on strikes.
Chunichi continued to rally in the 7th when Tateyama walked Araki and Ibata singled. Okajima came in and K'd Fukudome with heat. Woods grounded out and Tanishige walked to load the bases again. Again, they came up empty as Morino grounded out.
The four times hit by pitch in the game was a Japan Series record. Chunichi had stranded 12 without scoring a run.
Game 5: More of the same plus a first
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It was a pitching rematch of game one, the sole contest won so far by Chunichi. Nippon Ham loaded the bases in the bottom of the first but Shinjo struck out to end the inning and strand everyone. Tatsunami singled to open the 4th and two walks followed later with two outs. Araki then hit a tough grounder to first and slides head-first into first base to single in Tatsunami with Chunichi's first run in 21 innings. Ibata flew out to stop the rally.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Fighters finally get to Kawakami after nine straight scoreless against him. 3B Naoto Inada doubled, was bunted over and came home on a squeeze play by SS Makoto Kaneko to tie the game. An inning later, 2B Kensuke Tanaka led off with a single and stole second. One out later, Seguignol launched one into right field for his second home run of the Series. Inaba tacked on a homer as well in the 8th for some insurance, then Micheal Nakamura went 1-2-3 in the 9th to save his third game of the Series.
The Pacific League champion had taken home the Series title for the fourth year in a row. It was the first title ever for Nippon Ham and the first for the franchise since they had been the Toei Flyers back in 1962. A year after the first American manager won a Japan Series (Bobby Valentine), Hillman had followed suit behind superb pitching and the power hitting of Inaba (.353/.400/.765, 7 RBI) and Seguignol (.295/.400/.647, 6 RBI) plus Morimoto's speed and contact (.368/.455/.474, 6 R). It was a nice send-off for the media favorite, Tsuyoshi Shinjo (.353/.368/.412), playing in his final games. Nippon Ham had a 1.64 team ERA, allowing only a .232/.308/.310 batting line. Chunichi's rough luck in the Series continued as they were now only 1-6 in franchise history in Japan Series play and had dropped a record six straight appearances. Competent pitching was let down by the lack of offense, especially with men on base.
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