The Yomiuri ShimbunFukuoka SoftBank Hawks closer Dennis Sarfate added another laurel to his remarkable season when he was named the winner on Thursday of the prestigious Matsutaro Shoriki Award, presented annually to the person judged to have made the most significant contribution to pro baseball.
The 36-year-old right-hander, in his seventh season in Japan and fourth with the Hawks, set a Japan pro baseball record with 54 saves in helping SoftBank win the Pacific League pennant, then capped the season by helping the team defeat the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in the Japan Series.
Sarfate, who became just the second non-Japanese winner after then-Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine won it in 2005, will receive a gold medal and ¥5 million at the NPB Awards on Nov. 20.
Sarfate was a unanimous choice of the Shoriki Award panel of five distinguished members headed by Hawks chairman Sadaharu Oh.
“From the great performance he put in over the season, the first thing that comes to mind is his powerful pitching,” said one committee member.
Sarfate, who needs 21 saves to have a combined 250 for his career in Japan, dominated with a fastball in the upper 150s kph to put the finishing touches on any lead the Hawks took into the ninth inning. He recorded his 54 saves in 66 appearances, and in the postseason, allowed no runs in six games.
Sarfate left his most indelible impression in Game 6 of the Japan Series, in which he came on in the ninth inning and pitched three scoreless innings as the Hawks won 4-3 in 11 innings to wrap up the title.
Asked upon arriving at the Hawks’ preseason camp in February about his outlook for the season ahead, he told reporters they were free to write that he was to blame for the Hawks failing to win the championship the previous year. Then he vowed to make amends.
He quickly gained the confidence of the starters and middle relievers that if they got the ball into his hands with a lead, he would preserve it.
“You could say he was the one on the team who had the strongest desire to win,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said.
From 2001, the vast majority of Shoriki winners have been the manager of that year’s winning Japan Series team. Kudo, who led the team to its first championship in two years, had been a candidate, along with Yokohama counterpart Alex Ramirez, who guided the BayStars from a third-place finish in the Central League, through the Climax Series and into the Japan Series.
This year, discussions called for expanding the field of possible winners, and the focus turned to Sarfate after committee member Futoshi Nakanishi said, “In pro baseball this year, without Sarfate, there is nothing to discuss.”
“There was talk that perhaps we should also consider as a possibility the player who made the biggest impact during the year,” Oh said at a press conference.
4 Hawks grab Golden Gloves
Meanwhile, the Hawks had four players selected as Golden Glove recipients for fielding prowess, with third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda and shortstop Kenta Imamiya winning together for the fifth straight year, and eight players receiving the award for the first time.
Also selected from the Hawks were outfielder Yuki Yanagita, who won for the third time, and catcher Takuya Kai, who became the first-ever former development-squad player to earn a Golden Glove at that position. Matsuda is now a six-time winner.
Saitama Seibu Lions outfielder Shogo Akiyama received his fourth Golden Glove, while the remainder were first time winners: Seibu pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, Tohoku Rakuten Eagles first baseman Ginji Akaminai; Chiba Lotte Marines second baseman Daichi Suzuki and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Haruki Nishikawa.
In the Central League, Yomiuri pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano and catcher Seiji Kobayashi became the first Giants’ batterymates to win together since Masumi Kuwata and Shinnosuke Abe in 2002. Sugano won for the second straight year while Kobayashi is a first-time recipient.
Shortstop Hayato Sakamoto also made it two straight to give the Giants three winners, tied for the most with the pennant-winning Hiroshima Carp.
The Carp are represented by second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi — who drew the most votes of any player in either league — and outfielder Yoshihiro Maru, both five-time winners, and outfielder Seiya Suzuki, now a two-time winner.
The Hanshin Tigers’ Takashi Toritani, a four-time winner at shortstop, won for the first time as a third baseman.