The Hanshin Tigers have finally lifted the regular season championship trophy. It took them a whopping 18 years to make it happen. Now, they’ll try to win the Japan Series for the first time in 38 years.
The Hanshin Tigers won their first Central League regular-season title in 18 years, since 2005, with a 4-3 victory over their Nippon Professional Baseball 2023 “rivals” the Yomiuri Giants at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, on Thursday.
It’s been a long time coming. Hanshin had just swept rival Yomiuri 4-0 the day before, leaving them one win away from the Central League title. Hiroto Saiki, who is having a “career-high” season, was the starter in a game that could have clinched the title on its own.
Hanshin started the game with the following lineup: Koji Chikamoto (center field), Takumu Nakano (second base), Shota Morishita (right field), Yusuke Oyama (first base), Teruaki Sato (third base), Sheldon Noji (left field), Seishiro Sakamoto (catcher), Seiya Kinami (shortstop), and Hiroto Saiki (pitcher).
The early and middle innings were a tense pitcher’s duel. Saiki got two strikeouts against Yomiuri’s top of the order in the first inning to break up a triple play start, then retired the first three batters he faced in the second inning despite a leadoff walk, shut down the Yomiuri bats in the third inning without allowing a run, and cruised through the fourth inning with one grounder and two infield singles for all three outs.
Saiki’s solid pitching continued. In the fifth, he struck out two to end the inning, and in the sixth, he got Hisayoshi Chono to ground out to the pitcher, Makoto Kadoki to foul out to the catcher, and Yoshihiro Maru to ground out to the second baseman to complete a quality start (6 innings, 3 earned runs or less). Then, in the bottom of the sixth, things got off balance.
After being unable to capitalize on multiple scoring opportunities, Hanshin broke the tie in the sixth inning. After a leadoff walk to Chikamoto, Hanshin loaded the bases with a single to Morishita. Oyama then traded a single for a run of his own, and Sato hit a run-scoring double to extend the lead to 3-0.
Yomiuri then joined the chase. After six scoreless innings, Saiki gave up a solo home run to Kazuma Okamoto, and Hanshin came back with a run in the bottom of the seventh to maintain the three-run lead. Once Saiki was done, Hanshin activated their bullpen to close the gap, but a single run in the eighth inning cut the deficit to 4-2.
It was a close game until the end. Hanshin brought in “closer” Suguru Iwazaki to close out the game in the top of the ninth, but he gave up a solo home run to Hayato Sakamoto with the bases loaded and a double to Akihiro Yuto, sending the game into an unknown direction. But Iwazaki was unfazed, and he calmly retired the next two batters to close out the game, winning 11 straight to clinch their first regular season title in 18 years.
Prior to the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March of this year, the Korean National Team suffered a shock loss to the Oryx Buffaloes’ 1.5-man squad. But against a full roster of first-team players, Hanshin was able to pull off the victory, and the morale that had plummeted after losing to a near-second-team squad was understandably high. However, Hanshin was still struggling to get a single win in practice and exhibition games. At the time, no one thought that Hanshin could win the regular season title.
But practice and exhibition games were literally just that: practice and exhibition games. Hanshin began the season with a four-game winning streak, including a sweep of the Yokohama DeNA Baseball Club in the opening game under the leadership of Akinobu Okada, the first player to wear a Hanshin uniform in 15 years since 2008. The team then swept to a whopping 19 wins, including a seven-game winning streak in May, to finish atop the Central League standings with a +17 win-loss margin before interleague play.
It wasn’t without a crisis. Hanshin suffered a shocking three-game losing streak against top-ranked Yokohama DeNA shortly after the exchange, dropping them to second place, and while they appeared to be back on top, they lost the top spot to Hiroshima Toyo Carp after the All-Star break. However, they got back on track and went on an 11-game winning streak that led to their first title in 18 years.
After the victory, the Hanshin players rallied to the mound and rinsed Okada six times to celebrate. Some of the players on the telecast had tears in their eyes as they celebrated their long-awaited victory, and so did the fans: 42,648 people were in attendance at Koshien Stadium, many of whom didn’t even leave the ballpark after the players’ regular season championship ceremony.토토사이트
Hanshin’s win sent Osaka into a frenzy. After Hanshin’s victory, fans began to show up in Dotonbori, Osaka’s largest downtown area, with some performers jumping into the river. Police were even deployed to prevent fans from getting too rowdy after the victory.
Now, Hanshin has his sights set on winning the Japan Series. The first and last time Hanshin won the Japan Series was in 1985. The team had won five regular-season titles prior to that victory, but had struggled to win a Japan Series title. Will Hanshin be able to break the 38-year stalemate?