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Sheldon Neuse Leads Hanshin Tigers to First Japan Series Title in 38 Years

The American had four RBIs while Japan Series MVP Koji Chikamoto went 4-for-5 in the Tigers' 7-1 win over the defending champion Orix Buffaloes.

Sheldon Neuse hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning on Sunday, November 5 to spark the Hanshin Tigers to a 7-1 win over the Orix Buffaloes in Game 7 and their first Japan Series championship since 1985.

It was 38 years ago that another American, Randy Bass, led the Tigers to their first and only championship prior to Sunday when the native of Oklahoma was named MVP.

Neuse, who hit a solo homer in the Tigers' 5-1 loss to the defending champions on Saturday, came up big again at the plate for the Central League champions.

With Shota Morishita and Yusuke Oyama on base, Neuse golfed a low changeup from Orix starter Hiroya Miyagi into the upper deck in left field at Kyocera Dome to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead.

Japan Series
Hanshin's Sheldon Neuse bashes a three-run home run to left in the fourth inning. (Ⓒ SANKEI)

"I didn't expect him to hit a home run there," Hanshin manager Akinobu Okada said. "Last time out (Game 2) Miyagi held him hitless so that was a huge boost for us."

But the Tigers weren't done yet.

Japan Series
The Tigers' Shota Morishita slides into second base with a run-scoring double in the fifth inning. (ⒸSANKEI)

Tigers Extend the Lead to 6-0 in the 5th

In the top of the fifth, Seishiro Sakamoto and Chikamoto hit back-to-back singles.

Takumu Nakano then hit into what appeared to be an inning-ending double play.

But Okada called for a video review and, after the umpires checked the monitor, they determined that Nakano was indeed safe at first.

Orix manager Satoshi Nakajima then replaced Miyagi with reliever Motoki Higa, who gave up a double to Morishita that plated the runner from third to make it 4-0.

Oyama followed with an infield single that scored another run and Neuse, a former MLB player, laced a single to center to make it 6-0 with his fourth RBI of the game.

It was quite an offensive outburst for Neuse, who was relatively quiet in the regular season with just nine home runs, a .240 batting average and 56 RBIs.

Chikamoto Named Japan Series MVP

Chikamoto, who went 4-for-5 in Game 7 and batted .483 for the series with 14 hits and four RBIs, was named series MVP. 

"It feels great," Chikamoto said. "Over the five years I've been with this team, we've had our ups and downs but obviously this is the best year ever. I want to thank our fans for waiting 38 long years."

Miyagi, who took the loss, struck out five and was charged with five runs on five hits over 4⅔ innings.

Hanshin starter Koyo Aoyagi was solid over 4⅔ innings, giving up just four hits while striking out three and walking one.

After Aoyagi, Hanshin got superb relief from Hiroya Shimamoto, and eventual game winner Masashi Ito, who combined to hold Orix batters scoreless until the ninth.

Morishita drove in another run in the top of the ninth to record his seventh RBI of the series, a rookie record.

Japan Series
Tigers closer Suguru Iwazaki pitches in the ninth inning. (ⒸSANKEI)

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Hanshin Bullpen Gets the Job Done

Okada brought in Takuma Kirishiki for the final inning. He gave up a leadoff single to the red-hot Kotaro Kurebayashi before Tomoya Mori hit into a double play.

Okada then gave the ball to his regular closer Suguru Iwazaki, who promptly gave up a solo homer to Yuma Tongu and a single to Marwin Gonzalez.

But Iwazaki then got Yutaro Sugimoto out on a towering fly ball to left caught by Neuse and the celebrations were on.

Japan Series
Akinobu Okada lifts the championship trophy. (ⒸSANKEI)

"I always planned to have Iwazaki close things out," Okada said.

The winning manager added, "I didn't think he would give up a homer right away, but he's been our closer all year and I wanted him on the mound at the end."

After the final out, the Tigers players assembled on the mound for the traditional doage (victory toss), and they threw Okada up in the air several times.

Japan Series
Tigers supporters pose for a group photo at Koshien Stadium amid the euphoria after the team's Japan Series title-clinching win. (ⒸSANKEI)

Tigers Fans Celebrate at Koshien Stadium and in Osaka

Hanshin fans celebrated at a public viewing event at Koshien Stadium while thousands more gathered in the streets of downtown Osaka near the Dotombori River.

The Buffaloes, who are based in Osaka, were bidding for their second straight Japan Series title but just didn't get the timely hits in the final game. 

And the only Orix batter to have multiple hits was the ninth batter Shuhei Fukuda, who went 3-for-3.

Japan Series
Hanshin fans attending a public viewing of Game 7 at Koshien Stadium celebrate after the final out in the ninth inning. (ⒸSANKEI)

The Curse of the Colonel is Over

After 38 long years, the curse of the colonel is finally over.

The last time the Tigers won the Japan Series in 1985, their overzealous fans celebrated by having people who looked like players jump into the Dotonbori Canal.

Because none of the fans resembled first baseman Bass, the fans grabbed a life-sized statue of Kentucky Fried Chicken mascot Colonel Sanders and threw it into the river. 

Like Bass, the Colonel had a beard but the similarities ended there.

The Tigers returned to the Japan Series in 2003 after an 18-year absence but lost to the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. 

Then the top half of the statue was recovered in 2009. The Tigers made it to the Japan Series again in 2014 but lost again to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.


Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.


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