/

Imaoka giving Marines big spark against Hawks

by Kaz Nagatsuka

FUKUOKA — Makoto Imaoka was embarrassed to be surrounded by so many reporters after the game.

“It’s not like I hit the game winner,” the Chiba Lotte veteran humbly said after the Marines’ 4-2 win over the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Game 4 of the final stage of the Pacific League Climax Series on Sunday.

Imaoka put his team ahead 1-0 with a solo homer in the second.

“The team put me in the starting lineup in this important game, and I wanted to live up to the expectation by any means,” Imaoka said.

It was only one of the Marines’ four runs. But, undoubtedly, it gave positive energy to the team, which had to win to extend the series.

After returning to the bench after the homer, Imaoka raised his hand to salute the Marines fans in the left-field bleachers.

“(Kazuya) Fukuura said, ‘You should get out,’ so I did. But what if I wouldn’t come up with any more hits afterward? That wouldn’t be cool, right?” Imaoka said with a laugh.

The 36-year-old infielder was released by the Hanshin Tigers at the end of last season.

But through a period as a practice squad player in February, earned a roster spot on Opening Day.

Imaoka was demoted to the farm team in late May and returned to the top team in September. He ended up playing in just 26 regular-season games with a .227 average and no homers.

But he appears to be a lucky charm for the Marines.

He started as a designated hitter in Game 1 and scored the team’s first run on Shoitsu Omatsu’s three-run dinger. And on Sunday, again he was put in the lineup and chipped in for the club with a big hit.

“He’s good in this type of game,” manager Norifumi Nishimura said of Imaoka, a one-time Central League batting champion and RBI king.

Nishimura did not clarify if he would pencil in Imaoka’s name on the lineup card for Monday’s Game 5. But Imaoka is ready to accept any role to help his team even the series at 3-3.

“We’ve got to win two more,” Imaoka said. “But we’ll have to win tomorrow’s game first. That’s what we’re focused on.”