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No-frills Suzuki favors substance over style

by Kaz Nagatsuka

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — It was a career game for Takahiro Suzuki in Game 3 of the Japan Series.

The outfielder led off the first inning with a double before scoring the first run for his Giants and belted an unexpected second-inning three-run homer in Yomiuri’s 6-4 victory over the host and Pacific League champ Seibu Lions on Tuesday.

But unexpectedly, the thin player with blazing speed in baserunning and fielding in center field said that he was most proud of an infield hit that he notched in the seventh frame.

“The infield hit was more valuable to me than the homer,” the 30-year-old Suzuki told reporters after the game.

Earlier in the game, he had another not-so-conspicuous but nonetheless big play. Right after getting on second with the aforementioned first-inning double off Seibu starting southpaw Kazuhisa Ishii, Suzuki resolutely took off and advanced to third on Takuya Kimura’s grounder to shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima.

And then on the very next pitch, Suzuki successfully crossed home on Ishii’s wild pitch to get on board first for the Kyojin.

This is the 12th season for Suzuki, but despite his incredible speed he has been unheralded, spending much time in the club’s farm team before he finally came through to the top team during the summer.

Suzuki, who was drafted by the Giants in the fourth round in 1996, played in 105 contests, notching a .304 average and 30 stolen bases (fifth in the Central League) and winning a Golden Glove for the 2008 season.

“The (first) four runs were about Takahiro, really,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara marveled.

“I can’t think of many but Takahiro who could reach third with the grounder. We were able to grab the momentum on it.”

Nice stadium but . . . : Also in Tuesday’s Game 3, Giants cleanup batter Alex Ramirez was named the designated hitter, which can’t be seen during the regular CL season.

The “Big Daddy” confessed that although it was nice to be a DH because he didn’t have to field, at time same time he had to take care to keep himself warm during the game.

“This is a nice stadium,” Ramirez said before Wednesday’s Game 4.

“But you can’t take a soft toss here. It’s really surprising in the PL.

“It’s really hard being a DH here.

“They have a small place back here but everybody is hitting (meaning its hard to really practice.)”

But Ramirez, a CL MVP candidate for the season, managed to smack a dinger in the sixth despite the unfamiliar surroundings.

“That’s because they threw me a slider and not a fastball. I was surprised that I could keep it fair.”

Hot streak over: Making his seventh Japan Series, Ishii was known to be a big-time performer. But Game 3 turned out to be a disappointment for the veteran hurler.

The 35-year-old, as a matter of fact, took his first loss in the NPB championship series for 16 years. His previous loss came in his rookie year with the Yakult Swallows.

Ishii also snapped his 19-inning streak of allowing no runs that had been alive since the 1997 Japan Series when he was on the Swallows also against Seibu (Ishii won two games in the series) with just three pitches from the start of the game.

“I had no pressure,” said Ishii, who won 10 games at Seibu Dome out of his 11 victories in the regular season.

“It’s a pity that I couldn’t hold (the opponent) in a game I was expected to do well. I can’t forgive that I couldn’t do my job.”

But he didn’t look down because there might be a chance for him to gain payback if the series goes deep into the seventh game.

“(The Giants) just went one win ahead of us,” he said. “If I get another opportunity, I’ll do my best.”

Staff writer Jason Coskrey contributed to this story