SAPPORO — One day before the Pacific League title and a place in the Japan Series will be on the line, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and Chiba Lotte Marines were a relaxed bunch.
Fighters manager Trey Hillman took the mound and threw some batting practice balls to a friend, the team played pingpong and Marines manager Bobby Valentine hit ground balls to assistant coach Frank Ramppen before taking aim at the Climax Series scheduling system on Wednesday at Sapporo Dome.
“Same as we always do,” Hillman said about how the team would conduct its practice. “We need to lock in to what we’re doing as far as regular batting practice. More important than anything else is to keep the atmosphere where it’s been at all year long and the way it’s been for the last three or four years here.”
Like the Fighters, the Marines did not make any drastic changes at their practice.
“I think we’re relaxed,” Valentine said. “Why shouldn’t we be? This is what they’ve worked all season for. They’re ready to do the best they can and have fun doing it.”
The Marines have survived in the series largely on the shoulders of catcher Tomoya Satozaki, who hit go-ahead, two-run home runs to give Lotte victories in Game 2 and Game 4. Satozaki also had the three-run homer that gave Lotte a 3-2 win against Yu Darvish, who will start Thursday’s Game 5 for the Fighters, on Sept. 12.
“We want to get revenge against Darvish in the final game and make sure our fans have the opportunity to get tickets for the Japan Series at Chiba Marine Stadium,” Satozaki said.
Defense and pitching have ruled the day for the Fighters. Nippon Ham led the PL with a .988 fielding percentage and will need another big day to keep Lotte off the scoreboard as runs are usually hard to come by against Marines starter Yoshihisa Naruse.
“I think defense is going to be a key component of tomorrow’s game,” Hillman said. “I think we’ve continued to improve our intensity with the defense and our consistency with the defense over the course of the season.”
After some light-hearted fun with Naruse, Valentine addressed the media and expressed his frustrations with the fact that the first game of the Central League’s Climax Series is on the same day as the last game of the PL series.
“It’s been a great series,” Valentine said. “Great for baseball. It’s too bad the people who run this show aren’t smart enough to let our game be the only game on national TV tomorrow.
“It’s just too bad that there’s no wisdom leading this game in Japan. They’re allowing the Central League game to open up the same night as us. But other than that I’m very excited, all the fans who are here will be very excited and there will be a lot of fans who will miss a great game tomorrow because they’ll be tuning into another baseball game.”
Valentine also put some of the blame on the media.
“This shouldn’t be my observation,” Valentine said. “That should be your (the media) job. You should be representing your readership, the people who follow the sport all the time and the people who love the game of baseball, who are as frustrated about this as I am. You should all write about that so that it never happens again.
“There’s no way they (the league Climax Series) should be competing against each other,” Valentine said. “We’re both in professional baseball.
“It’s like the promoter of two great singing stars. You have two of the biggest stars in Japan and he’s going to put them on television and he puts one on one station at the same time he puts the other on another station. He would go broke if he did that for very long.”