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Imae shows maturity in second trip to Japan Series

by Jason Coskrey

NAGOYA — Almost every other comment out of Toshiaki Imae’s mouth has suggested this season’s Japan Series is totally different from the 2005 edition.

Nearly everything he’s done on the field suggests otherwise.

A holdover from the Chiba Lotte Marines’ 2005 championship team, the third baseman helped his club earn an important split in the first two games of 2010 Japan Series against the Chunichi Dragons.

In 2005, he was one of the main reasons the Marines were able to sweep the Hanshin Tigers for the title and once again he’s taken his game to another level in the Japan Series.

Imae was 3-for-3 with an RBI in the Marines win in Game 1 and drove in another run in Game 2 at Nagoya Dome.

“It’s just a coincidence,” Imae said. “You can’t always play on a stage such as this. So I’ve tried to enjoy every moment and that attitude has worked out.”

He had the series of his life against the Tigers in 2005, going 10-for-15 (.667) with a home run and four RBIs.

He was named MVP of that series and helped the Marines claim their first Japan Series title since 1974, when the franchise was known as the Lotte Orions and beat Chunichi in six games to win the championship.

“A lot is different this time,” Imae said. “In 2005, I was playing, but I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing. I’ve been playing, and sometimes struggling, since 2005, so I want to show what I’ve learned in the process.”

Imae has had an up-and-down career since 2005, when he hit .310 with eight homers and 71 RBIs during the regular season. He battled through injuries but mostly wasn’t able to replicate his 2005 numbers in subsequent seasons.

That changed this year as Imae posted career highs with a .331 average, 77 RBIs and eight stolen bases. He also hit 10 home runs and had a .331 on-base percentage.

“I’m always thinking about what I can do to perform well throughout the season and how I can swing the bat with better balance.”

Imae may have resembled his 2005 self in Game 1 but Chunichi’s big victory in Game 2 will keep the Marines from completing another sweep. If Imae can produce like he did in Game 1, however, he may help send the title back to Chiba in the end.

“I swear I didn’t think I could have another performance like that,” Imae said. “But I was 3-for-3 (in Game 1). You never know what’s going to happen.”