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Giants stay cool as Japan Series heats up

by Jason Coskrey

Brian Sweeney was ready for anything.

Had surprise starter Yu Darvish stumbled out of the gate in Game 2 of the Japan Series, it would have been Sweeney’s job to hold off the Yomiuri Giants and prevent the Fighters from falling behind 2-0 in the series.

Darvish turned in a heroic performance, however, to tie the series at 1-1 and leave the Fighters hoping to keep that momentum alive as the scene switches to Tokyo.

“We were hoping his condition was good,” Sweeney said of Darvish. “That he was feeling good and that his body was OK. If he wasn’t feeling good, then it was my chance to jump in. Thank God there were no problems. He did an awesome job.”

The Fighters and Giants each held a light workout at Tokyo Dome on Monday in preparation for Game 3 of the Japanese Fall Classic.

Right-hander Wirfin Obispo is expected to get the start for the Giants, but it’s the ceremonial first pitcher who’ll draw the most attention on Tuesday.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to toss out the first pitch during the pre-game festivities. Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers, is to attend the game with former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, NPB Commissioner Ryozo Kato and John Roos, the U.S. ambassador to Japan.

After that, all eyes will be on Obispo, who started against the Chunichi Dragons in the Climax Series. But if the 25-year-old is nervous about his first Japan Series start, he wasn’t saying.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” Obispo said. “I feel happy. I’m going to pitch the same way I did against the Dragons.”

Yomiuri didn’t seem too concerned about things after its loss in Game 2. Manager Tatsunori Hara gave many of his stars the day off, and the Giants who did practice did so briefly.

“It’s good to be back at Tokyo Dome,” said shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, one of the few regulars to make an appearance. “Everybody is feeling good.”

There weren’t many good vibrations on Sunday in Sapporo, where Darvish carved up the Giants in a surprise start.

“They have great pitching and good batters,” Yomiuri’s Yoshiyuki Kamei said. “They’ve got a good offense, so we have to be at least as good as they are in that area.”

So which Fighters starter will try to prevent that from happening?

Well, that’s anybody’s guess.

It’s likely either Sweeney or Keisaku Itokazu, but Tomoya Yagi and Shugo Fujii could also factor into the mix.

But after a season of announcing their starters a day in advance (as per Pacific League rules) the Fighters are enjoying keeping everyone guessing.

“It’s weird, I don’t know what’s going on half the time,” Sweeney said. “So it’s different. It’s a big secret. It makes me laugh at times, how we play it off and everything.”

Sweeney didn’t have a good outing his last time in the Big Egg — he gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings in a win over the Orix Buffaloes — but isn’t fazed by the Giants and their power-laden lineup.

“You really have to go about it with no fear,” Sweeney said. “These guys are good hitters. They’re good hitters in any park. You just have to attack the zone and stick to your strengths.”