On a night when Japanese baseball fans braved the rain just to see who finishes as champions of the Japan Series, a determined Rakuten Eagles team closed out the Yomiuri Giants to give the Sendai-based team the their first ever Japan professional baseball title. With the memory the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami still poignantly etched in the memory of the people from Sendai, this win may be one of the small joys that according to Rakuten manager Senichi Hoshino “would give courage” to people who lived in the disaster-hit area.
The Eagles’ fans from the tsunami-hit region had come out in force for a chance to see the nine-year old Sendai-based team – the youngest among Japan’s professional baseball clubs – close out their Tokyo-based opponents, the richest and oldest team in the league. The fans brought signs that read “Ganbare (Stay strong), Tohoku.” The phrase was posted in Rakuten’s dugout and sewn into the arm of the Rakuten players’ jerseys – there was no lack of inspiration for the team. And as Rakuten closer Masahiro Tanaka struck out pinch-hitter Kenji Yano, the 24,000-strong crowd inside the Kleenex Stadium came to its feet and in the rain cheered the team that brought them their first championship title. “Let us praise our players who have given courage to children in Tohoku (Japan’s northeast region), children across the nation and people in the disaster-hit area,” the 66-year-old Hoshino shouted emotionally to the cheering crowd. “Although what we can do is really very small compared to the extent of the suffering the people in the Sendai area experienced, I had always wanted to bring a little bit of comfort to the people by becoming number one,” said Hoshino, who took the helm at Rakuten in 2011. The manager got tossed up in the air by his players for his troubles.
The Eagles’ ace pitcher Tanaka, widely expected to move to the US major leagues next season, threw a whopping 160 pitches in a losing effort the night before when the Eagles struggled against the Giants in a 4-2 defeat. The loss had ended his winning streak since August last year at 30 games, from regular season games to the post-season. But the 25-year-old ace right-hander was sent to the mound in the ninth inning as a token of Hoshino’s thanks for his service throughout the season. “I was miserable yesterday but I was raring to go at any moment tonight,” Tanaka said. When everything was done and the championship in the bag, the crowd shouted to Tanaka “Arigato (Thank you).” But the pitcher made a grand gesture by shouting back to the crowd his own gratitude, thanking them for a wonderful season.
[via Yahoo News]