SAPPORO — Whether he pitches or just walks onto the field, Yu Darvish still draws the biggest attention among the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
The 23-year-old Darvish had believed that it would be difficult to make an appearance in the 2009 Japan Series due to his left buttocks pain. But sports papers reported in their Saturday editions that the Fighters ace may make a shocking return to the mound by starting Game 2.
During practice before Saturday’s series opener, Darvish didn’t allow many of the reporters to take their eyes off him. He was going through a light workout, including playing some catch by throwing with his left hand, his non-throwing hand, in the outfield before the game.
As he was headed back to the locker room, a throng of reporters followed him, expecting some words from him. But he kept his mouth shut and disappeared into the backstage, not providing any clues.
Teams don’t announce their respective starting pitchers for NPB championship games.
Shake the dome: Fighters fan favorite Atsunori Inaba is known for the “Inaba jump.” It’s a physical activity that pretty much the entire crowd at Sapporo Dome does by getting on their feet and shaking the house.
By leaping repeatedly when he’s in the batter’s box and there’s a runner(s) in scoring position.
Inaba said before Game 1 that he would expect an even bigger vibration during the Japan Series.
“We’re fortunate to be able start the series at Sapporo Dome,” the 37-year-old Inaba said. “But unless there is a runner on second, it won’t take place. So I will be praying that the batters before me get to second base.”
Long layoff? No problem: Yomiuri Giants starting lefty Tetsuya Utsumi, who is expected to take the mound in Game 2, was going to pitch in the fifth game of the Central League Climax Series second stage against the Chunichi Dragons on Oct. 27.
But that opportunity disappeared when Yomiuri wrapped up the series in Game 4, and there was some anxiety about the hurler not having pitched in a serious game since Oct. 12 against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows during the regular season.
Utsumi admitted that he has some worries, but added that he had made satisfactory preparation entering the series.
“I prepared well in order to be able to win,” Utsumi said. “I took the mound in batting practice, imagining the batters (of the Fighters).”
As for Game 2, Utsumi revealed he told himself that he’d need to pitch carefully early in the contest.
“I’ll have to get over the first inning, and hopefully I get some rhythm,” he said.
All sold out: An NPB spokesman said on Saturday that all the tickets for Games 1-7 had been sold out.
The Giants and Fighters are facing off in Japan’s Fall Classic for the first time since 1981.