Looking back at 2010

» 13 January 2011 » In npb »

2010 was an eventful year for Nippon Pro Yakyu. Today we look back at some of the notable stories from the year that was.

Murton Hits

The story of individual accomplishment in 2010 easily went to Matt Murton. Murton, a 28-year-old journeyman toiling in America’s minor and major leagues, found sustained success with the Hanshin Tigers. Initially reluctant to play in Japan, he embraced Japanese baseball culture, all the while surpassing expectations and breaking a hitting record. In his first year in Japan, Murton batted .349/.395/.499 while driving in 91 runs. The powerful righty smashed 17 home runs and tattooed left-handed pitchers at a .408 clip. Most notably though, his 214 hits broke Ichiro’s NPB record for the most hits in a season. The total was only 58 fewer than he had recorded over a Major League Baseball career that spanned five seasons.

Lotte Wins

Finishing with a record of 75-67-2 (.528), the Chiba Lotte Marines just managed to edge out the Nippon Ham Fighters for third place in the Pacific League. While the Fighters missed the playoffs by ½ a game in the standings, the Marines took the postseason opportunity and ran with it.  Lotte won a pair of 1-run games against the Seibu Lions in the first stage of the Climax Series, setting them up for a showdown in Fukuoka. Against the favored Pacific League champion Hawks, Marines pitching held their opponent to 9 runs over the six game series. More surprisingly, Lotte didn’t allow a home run the entire series, while getting enough timely hitting to win four road games.

In the Japan Series, Lotte and the Chunichi Dragons traded wins and losses for the first four games, with Games 2 and 3 becoming lopsided affairs. Lotte won Game by by a 10-4 margin to take a 3 to 2 series lead. Things then got really crazy as the teams played 15 innings in the Nagoya Dome to a 2-2 Game 6 tie. Game 7 was a seesaw battle, as the Marines rallied from a 6-2 deficit and eventually took a 7-6 into the 9th inning. Chunichi sent the game to extra innings with a triple and ensuing sacrifice fly. In the 12th inning Lotte got a big triple of their own to win the game 8-7 and the Japan Series title. Toshiaki Imae batted .444 and was named the Series MVP. As a team the Marines hit .281 and won their 4th crown in team history.

Posting Hits & Misses

One year shy of international free agency, the Rakuten Eagles decided that the time was right to allow veteran starter (and 2008 Sawamura Award winner) Hisashi Iwakuma to pursue a career in MLB. While the posting system has worked well for others, Iwakuma’s case exposed the flaws in it. It was revealed that the Oakland Athletics had won the bidding, but the team and Iwakuma’s agent Don Nomura were unable to reach an agreement on a contract. Negotiations became contentious at times, and the 30 day negotiating window was allowed to expire. So the right-hander will find himself back in Sendai for the 2011. He will be free to determine his own career path without the use of the posting system after the season.

The other off-season posting went well. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, coming off a career year (.346/.423/.482) year and a championship, had his posting request granted by the Chiba Lotte Marines. The Minnesota Twins’ posting fee of around $5 million US was accepted, and Nishioka agreed to a 3-year/$9.25 million contract in December. The contract has an option for a 4th year at $4 million.

It seems as if every off-season fans on both sides of the Pacific go through a round of Yu Darvish posting speculation. This winter was no different, even though the result was the same. Though he remained unsigned into December, Darvish used social media to assure his fans that he would pitch for the Fighters in 2011. Though his marital life and divorce proceedings became fodder for the tabloids, Darvish’s career is in fine shape, as he rightfully became Japan’s highest paid player (500 million yen) for 2011.

Brown Departs

Replacing a legend is one of the hardest things to do in sports. In 2010 Marty Brown learned that lesson the hard way.

Tagged to replace aging legend and previous manager Katsuya Nomura, Brown didn’t exactly come to Sendai with stellar career numbers. His stint in Hiroshima had been unimpressive at 256-306-16 and three 5th place finishes. He was nevertheless tagged to replace an unhappy Nomura who had led Rakuten to a 2nd place finish the year before. Unfortunately for Brown and Rakuten fans, the team crashed out of the pennant race early and wound up in last place at 62-79-3. Motohiro Shima’s superb season couldn’t save Brown’s job, though, as he was dumped and replaced with Senichi Hoshino for 2011.

The Saito Generation Begins

Though the season had ended for 10 of 12 NPB teams, the 2010 draft gave fans a reason to stay in touch with baseball in late October. Yuki Saito, coined “The Handkerchief Prince” after his captivating performance during 2006 Summer Koshien, was draft eligible. He and teammate Tatsuya Ohishi had been part of a formidable pitching staff for Waseda University in the ensuing years, capping off a stellar college career with a final game championship in Tokyo Big6 play.

When it came to draft day, both pitchers were highly sought after, with four teams submitting Saito’s name in the draft lottery. Somewhat surprisingly, Nippon Ham came away the winner, setting off ‘Saito-mania’ in Hokkaido.

In Memoriam

Sadly, 2010 didn’t pass without tragedy. In early February, 24-year old outfielder Hiroyuki Oze was found dead outside his Miyakojima spring training hotel. The cause of death was ruled a suicide. Various tributes to the young Orix player were held early in the season in his memory.

Equally shocking came the sudden death of Giants coach Takuya Kimura in April. Kimura-coach was hitting ground balls to his team in Hiroshima when he suddenly collapsed from what was later diagnosed as a brain hemmorage. On April 7th, five days after the initial incident, the 37-year old Kimura passed away.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Trackback URL