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Japan Series veteran Wada continues to produce for Dragons

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Nagoya Anyone in Japanese baseball should know how good Kazuhiro Wada is by now. The Chiba Lotte Marines had certainly put a warning mark on the Chunichi Dragons slugger before the Japan Series started.

But still, the 38-year-old cleanup hitter for the Dragons has managed to chip in for the team with his phenomenal swings.

The right-handed hitter has gone 5-for-8 with four RBIs and a homer in the first couple of games in the ongoing Japan Series against the Marines.

Wada had a heroic night on Sunday as he went 3-for-4 with three RBIs and a walk in Game 2 to help Chunichi even the series at 1-all.

“My condition isn’t bad,” Wada said after Sunday’s game, in which Chunichi assaulted Chiba Lotte 12-1 at Nagoya Dome. “Even if you’re in good shape, sometimes you can’t come up with good results. But I’ve been getting some positive results, so it’s not bad.”

And when he referred to “results,” it didn’t just mean his own performance but the team’s outcomes.

Wada said that dropping both games at home would have made it hard to make a comeback. So he was happy that he could help the team save one with his bat, after allowing the Marines to take Game 1 in a 5-2 loss.

Wada added that he didn’t feel much pressure. Perhaps his past postseason experiences have helped put the jitters away.

This is Wada’s third Japan Series appearance and first with the Dragons. Wada was playing for the Seibu Lions in the first two, in 2002 and 2004.

In the 2002 series, Wada had to swallow a bitter pill. That season, he was selected for the all-Pacific League team as the designated hitter. But in the Japan Series, he was completely silent, going 0-for-15. The Lions were swept by the Yomiuri Giants.

Wada succeeded to wipe away the stigma in the 2004 series. He launched four homers against the Dragons and guided Seibu to its first NPB championship in 12 years.

Those up-and-down experiences in past Japan Series games may have become a steppingstones for Wada in the 2010 series, although he is in a different uniform this time around.

“I chose this team with my will,” said the native of Gifu, who joined Chunichi through free agency in 2008. “I wanted to be accepted by my home region.”

Wada has certainly been embraced by the local fans around the area. Who wouldn’t like this guy? The bald guy with a mild smile has had a phenomenal year in 2010, setting personal marks in many individual offensive categories.

Playing in all 144 games during the season, Wada hit .339 with 37 homers and 93 RBIs for the Dragons. He led the Central League in on-base percentage (.437), slugging percentage (.624) and walks (92), helping the club win its first regular-season pennant in four years.

However, Wada said that all these achievements of his own and the team’s would mean less unless they win the Japan Series title.

“I have a strong desire to win the championship on this team,” said Wada, who was chosen the 2010 CL Climax Series MVP. “It feels like, if you lose in the Japan Series, you lose everything.

“So we definitely want to grab three more wins.”