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Koyano continues to deliver in the clutch

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Although he barely missed hitting the .300 mark, Eiichi Koyano was a big part of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ pennant-winning run with his MVP-type performance throughout the year.

Koyano has particularly shined at the plate in clutch situations in 2009. The third baseman saved the team a handful of times with his bat, which drove in 82 RBIs, third behind the team’s core hitters, Terrmel Sledge (88) and Atsunori Inaba (85).

Koyano had a big night on Wednesday, too. He drove in four runs, going 3-for-4, in Game 4 of the Japan Series. His RBI single in the eighth secured the 8-4 win for the Fighters.

“I can only do what I can do. I stepped up to the plate, not being conscious about hitting a home run,” Koyano said after the game, referring to the eighth-inning single at the hitter-friendly Tokyo Dome.

Batting No. 6 in the lineup and with just 11 homers, the right-handed bat earned his 82 RBIs. That’s because Koyano can adapt to situations in the game, such as hitting to the opposite field when there is a runner on base.

Koyano, who entered Game 5 with a four-game hitting streak, showed that skill in his second at-bat.

He smacked a pitch by Giants starter Hisanori Takahashi into the gap in right-center for a double to drive in two more runs in the Fighters’ four-run third inning.

Koyano held a successful outcome in the moment because of his clever read on the pitcher.

“Since (Takahashi) pitched me inside in the previous at-bat, I was looking for an outside pitch, aiming at a two-seamer or sinker,” Koyano said. “I don’t know exactly what I hit, but it was an outside pitch any way.”

Sought-after man: Japanese sports papers reported on Thursday that the Yokohama BayStars are interested in acquiring Sledge.

Sledge hit .266 and led Hokkaido Nippon Ham, which is playing in the ongoing Japan Series, with 27 home runs and 88 RBIs despite missing more than 25 games this season due to an injury.

The club hopes to re-sign the American, whose two-year contract expires this year, and he wants to stay with the Pacific League champions.

But it is believed that the negotiations from both sides are likely to be tough.

Asked for his reaction, Sledge said that it was unexpected news for him.

“I heard about it,” Sledge said. “But I’m focusing on this Japan Series. I’m not worried about anything like that right now. I heard about that at the same time as you guys did.

“I’m not going to take any distractions from the hard working of these guys. Right now, I’m a Nippon Ham Fighter and after the season, I’m expected to be a Nippon Ham Fighter.”

The Central League club Yokohama, which sank to the dead bottom of the standings in the last two seasons, has been seeking a left-handed, power-hitting foreigner during that span.

The BayStars got Dan Johnson, a former Oakland Athletic, before this past regular season. The 30-year-old outfielder led the team with 69 RBIs and was second with 24 homers behind Shuichi Murata, but only hit .215.

Johnson is believed to be leaving Yokohama in the offseason.

Mr. Away Game: Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s southpaw starter Tomoya Yagi picked up his second career Japan Series victory in Game 4 on Wednesday.

“I had no jitters,” Yagi said after the game. “I can only say that I was able to go tenaciously. I could pitch my game.”

His first win came in the second game of the 2006 Japan Series, in which the Fighters beat the Chunichi Dragons in five games.

Entering Game 5, none of the Fighters’ pitchers, including mighty ace Yu Darvish, notched a win at an away stadium in the NPB championship series.

Yagi won seven away games out of his nine victories in the regular season.