Seibu Takes Japan Series

TOKYO—The Pacific League's Seibu Lions defeated the Central League's Yomiuri Giants in an exciting seven-game Japan Series to claim the title of champions in Japanese pro baseball for 2008.

Led by first-year manager Hisanobu Watanabe, the Lions came back from a 3-2 series deficit to win the final two games on the road Nov. 8-9 at Tokyo Dome. Seibu, based in the western Tokyo suburb of Tokorozawa in Saitama Prefecture, captured its first Japan Series title in four years.

After winning Game One by the score of 2-1 in Tokyo, the Lions lost Game Two by a 3-2 count at the Giants' home park. Yomiuri took two of three at Seibu Dome, winning 6-4 in Game Three and 7-3 in Game Five. Saitama righthander Takayuki Kishi shut out the Giants 5-0 in Game Four.

Returning to Tokyo Dome with their backs to the wall, the Lions scored a 4-1 victory in Game Six and eked out a 3-2 win in a nail-biter of a Game Seven to win their first Japan Series since 2004.

Kishi was named the series MVP after pitching 14 2/3 scoreless innings; nine in his Game Four shutout and 5 2/3 in relief with only two days rest in Game Six, when he was again the winning pitcher.

Six foreign players saw action in the 2008 Japan Series. Lions closer Alex Graman, formerly with the New York Yankees, was credited with saves in Games One and Seven, and teammate Hiram Bocachica of Puerto Rico, a veteran of eight major league seasons with five clubs, homered in the deciding final game.

For the Giants, left fielder Alex Ramirez, a hopeful with the Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates a decade ago and the 2008 Central League RBI leader with 125,  hit two home runs, including a "sayonara" (walk-off) to win Game Two.

Yomiuri pitcher Seth Greisinger, whose 17 wins in the regular year led the CL, was the starter and loser in Game Four. Greisinger has pitched in the majors with Detroit, Minnesota and Atlanta.

Yomiuri closer Marc Kroon, a one-time National Leaguer with San Diego, Cincinnati and Colorado, was also a league leader during the regular season with 41 saves. He notched a save in Japan Series Game Three. Korean first baseman Lee Seung Yeop also saw action for the Giants.

Soon-to-be free agent and major league hopeful Koji Uehara did not fare well in two starts in the Japan Series, losing Game One and lasting only three innings in Game Five, leaving with no decision. The 33-year-old righthander has been thoroughly scouted by several MLB teams and has said he is ready for a shot at pitching in the majors.

Seibu qualified for the Japan Series by finishing first in the Pacific League regular season, then beating the defending PL champion Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Stage 2 of the Climax Series playoffs. The Fighters had finished third but defeated the second-place Orix Buffaloes in Stage 1 of the PLCS for the right to challenge the Lions.

Yomiuri, managed by Tatsunori Hara, came back from 13 games behind the rival Hanshin Tigers in mid-July to win the Central League pennant by two games. The Giants got into the Japan Series by beating the regular season third place finisher Chunichi Dragons, who had knocked off the Tigers in the opening round of the CL Climax Series.

Rookie manager Watanabe, a former Lions star pitcher during the franchise's glory years of the late 1980s and 1990s, guided Seibu to the top after the team had finished fifth in the six-team Pacific League in 2007.

He praised the Yomiuri opponent and its manager after the hard-fought Japan Series by saying, "The Giants are a great team, and Hara is to be congratulated. This was a great series, with close, exciting games, and it was fitting it went to the seventh game. I'm just so happy we came out on top."