The Hanshin Tigers of Japanese professional baseball have won their first league title in 18 years. Manager Akinobu Okada, 66, made things happen in his first year back.
Hanshin clinched the Nippon Professional Baseball 2023 Central League title with a 4-3 home win over the Yomiuri Giants on Thursday at Nishinomiya Koshien Stadium in Hyogo Prefecture, Osaka, Japan, with 15 games remaining. It was the first league title in 18 years and the club’s sixth in franchise history after winning in 1962, 1964, 1985, 2003, and 2005.
With the magic number “1” left to win the championship, a season-high 42,648 fans flocked to Koshien Stadium. Fans were eager to see their favorite team from the Kansai region win the title. Fearing chaos and accidents due to the crowds spilling onto the streets, Osaka authorities issued safety warnings to prevent accidents. Police officers were also dispatched to the Dotonbori River, a popular tourist attraction in Osaka, to prepare for any possible incidents. During the 2003 championship, tens of thousands of Hanshin fans took to the streets and flooded the Dotonbori River, resulting in a tragic accident that left one person dead.
With all eyes on him, Hanshin starter Hiroto Saiki pitched seven innings of three-hit ball (one home run), one walk and five strikeouts to earn the victory, capped by Yusuke Oyama’s sacrifice fly in the sixth inning and Teruaki Sato’s 20th home run of the season. The Koshien Stadium erupted into a frenzy when reliever Suguru Iwazaki gave up a single in the ninth inning to preserve a 4-3 lead and seal the victory.
Hanshin, which clinched its first title in 41 years with an 11-game winning streak to improve to 80 wins (44 L, 4 T), has been atop the Central League all season with a winning percentage of 6.4/5. After an opening four-game winning streak, the team hit a steep upswing with nine straight wins in May and 10 in August.
Okada, who took over the reins of Hanshin this season, led the organization to its first league title in 18 years in 2005. Okada led Hanshin from 2004-2008 and then the Oryx Buffaloes from 2010-2012 before returning to the organization this year after a 15-year absence. After a 10-year hiatus, he proved his leadership skills by leading a team that finished third in the league last year (68 wins, 71 losses, 4 ties, .489) back to the top in one year.
According to Japanese media such as Sports Nippon, Okada said, “We’re playing Hiroshima tomorrow, so I really wanted to seal the win today in front of the many fans in Koshien.” “I thought September would be the deciding factor, but I didn’t expect to do this well. It’s all thanks to the players. I want to share the joy of winning with the fans.” Hanshin is on an 11-game winning streak in September. He has started 11 games in a row, showing great strength on the mound.
“It’s been a year since I was offered the job last September. I didn’t think we could win a championship so quickly after 18 years away from it. It was a team 안전놀이터 effort, including the front office. It would be great to build a really strong Tigers team and share the joy with the fans every year.” “I think the players are young and have a lot of potential to grow. I’m looking forward to next year.”
Heading into the final stage of the Climax Series, Hanshin will face the winner of the First Stage, which pits the league’s second- and third-place finishers, for a spot in the Nippon Series. Hanshin last won the Japan Series in 1985, 38 years ago. In 2005, they made it to the Nippon Series, but were swept in four games by the Chiba Lotte Marines. Coach Okada said, “We can’t lose because we passed the first round. We are determined to win the Japan Series.”