SAPPORO — The series is only tied at 1-1. But the Fighters have seriously got to find a way to play their trademark brand of ball.
Which means? To rely on strong pitching and great defense, and capitalize on subtle things such as walks, bunts and steals on offense to win games.
After being helped by a spectacular 13-strikeout performance by ace hurler Yu Darvish in Game 1, defending Japan Series champion Hokkaido Nippon Ham took a hard 8-1 loss to the Chunichi Dragons in Game 2 on Sunday.
In the second game, nothing worked for the northern club.
Starter Ryan Glynn worked just 3 1/3 innings, walking three batters (all in the fourth inning) and giving up four earned runs.
What’s more, the Fighters batters ended up with one run on only four hits against Chunichi’s young starting pitcher, Kenichi Nakata.
The Fighters were able to grab the Game 1 victory because of Fernando Seguignol’s three-run homer in the first inning, but were able to produce only one more hit in the contest.
Two hits in Game 1, and four in Game 2. Obviously, they’ve got an issue.
“Six hits in two games? What kind of team is that?” head coach Kazuyuki Shirai half-jokingly said in the Sapporo Dome’s elevator after Game 2.
“When you get behind in the count, you’ll have a hard time (to hit). You have to go aggressively from earlier in the count.”
In addition, the Fighters have scored their only Japan Series runs on Seguignol’s dingers (his second round-tripper of the series was a solo shot in Game 2).
Relying on the long ball to produce runs has not been the club’s recipe for success. Exhibit A: The Hammies had the fewest homers (73) among the NPB’s 12 ballclubs in 2007.
“That’s not the way we play,” Shirai said. “We gave up a big lead to (the Dragons) in the middle of the game, and it made us difficult to use our feet.”
Shirai recalled that his team would drop games when it had to play in that kind of situation in the regular season.
“During the regular season, we’d often lose when we played like that,” the 46-year-old said. “But on the other hand, when we played close games, our winning percentage was a lot better.”
On Sunday, Glynn’s unexpectedly shaky pitching made it difficult for manager Trey Hillman and his staff to play the way they wanted to.
Glynn himself knew it and took the blame for the loss.
“Absolutely terrible,” said Glynn, who went 9-8 with a 2.21 ERA (third in the league) this season, when asked about his outing. “I didn’t command my fastball, I didn’t command my curveball, I didn’t command my slider, I didn’t command my forkball. I didn’t establish anything.
“It’s really disappointing to myself. I’ve always kept my teammates in the game, and the reason why the Nippon Ham Fighters lost (tonight) was because of Ryan Glynn.
“The team expected better from me and I expected better from myself.”
But you can get your past back, and you cleanse your mind afresh — at least Shirai and Seguignol think that way.
“We lost, and there is nothing else,” Seguignol said. “It’s sad and it was a tough game. (But) we just want to rebound from this game and make sure we come out to do a better job.”
Shirai grinned after the loss, not focusing on it for a long time.
“No matter what we get from the game, I always try to forget about it once it’s over and switch my mind afresh,” Shirai said. “We have possibly five more games, and we should only think about how we play in the remaining five games.”
So what’s the Fighters’ plan again, Coach Shirai?
“We have to have our starters keep ourselves in the game, use our feet and make bunts firmly when we need to,” he said.
Shirai also swept aside the notion — and the Fighters’ related anxiety — that his team might not be able to repeat as Japan Series champions.
“If we win the next one (Game 3 at Nagoya Dome on Tuesday), the situation might flip over all of sudden,” he said. “We know that from the experience of last year’s regular season and (Japan) Series.”