SAPPORO — Hirokazu Ibata never smiled after hitting his first homer of the series. Instead, he was regretting his fielding “mistake” before he hit the dinger.
He is just that kind of a guy — a guy who can’t forgive a play that could cost his team a win.
“I should’ve made that play,” Ibata said of his fielding play in Game 2.
Ibata, the Dragons shortstop, hit a solo clout off Hokkaido Nippon Ham left-handed starter Tomoya Yagi in the bottom of the first inning to tie the game at 1-1 in Game 2 of the Japan Series on Sunday at Nagoya Dome.
But in the top of the same inning, Ibata was not able to handle a liner by Fernando Seguignol and allowed a runner to come home safely and the Fighters got on board first.
Although it was recorded as a base hit for Seguignol, Ibata thought he could’ve caught the ball to avoid the run. The Fighters came through later in the game and went onto equal the series 1-1 with Chunichi with a 5-2 win.
The 31-year-old Ibata, who has received the Golden Glove honors twice in his career, is darn serious about baseball, serious about winning. And he doesn’t care about his personal stats.
So he’s focused on bringing a victory to the Dragons.
In particular, Ibata wants to stay solid, not making any miscues like the one he made in Game 2. Offensively, he thrives on getting on base — a hit or a walk, or even on an error, every which way is fine for Ibata. It doesn’t have to be a home run.
“I’d like to hit all the balls that come in the strike zone,” said Ibata, who was 1-for-7 in the first two contests of the Fall Classic. “I want to get on base and run. I consider a home run is a bonus for myself, and I don’t count it as a hit.”
Ibata’s devotion on both offense and defense certainly are keys to success for Hiromitsu Ochiai’s Dragons in the series.
But, hey, the next time the born-to-be-a-baseball-player Ibata is guaranteed to raise a smile will be when his team grabs its first Japan Series title, ending what’s currently a 52-year drought.