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Marines excited to play at home again

by Kaz Nagatsuka

CHIBA — The Marines had hopes for weeks to return to the warm cheers at home on a chilly November night.

The Japan Series moved to an open-aired Chiba Marine Stadium on Tuesday, when Game 3 of the Japan Series was played between Chiba Lotte and the Chunichi Dragons.

The last time the Marines played at their own ballpark was Oct. 1, when they edged the Orix Buffaloes 5-4 to earn a postseason ticket in the final regular-season game.

“When we finished the game and clinched the Climax Series, we promised to our fans in the stands that we would come back here,” Chiba Lotte captain Tsuyoshi Nishioka said before Tuesday’s game. “And we’ve made it happen and I’m so pleased about it.

“Now we’re at home and our home crowds will push our back. We’d like to take these three games here.”

The Pacific League’s third-seeded club had played 10 playoff games, including the previous couple of games in the Japan Series, all away from Chiba.

But Chiba Marine Stadium wasn’t the only place that the loyal Marines fans have gathered. In Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, Fukuoka and Nagoya, the men in black were given loud cheers from behind their backs during the playoffs.

“They came to root for us even at away games,” Chiba Lotte third baseman Toshiaki Imae said. “But of course, we get way more cheers at home.”

Pray for victory: Outside the stadium, both Chiba Lotte and Chunichi held a series of events on the stage that was set up hours before the game began.

While most of the activity featured entertainment, including mascots of both teams and former players for talk shows, the Marines even had priests from the famous Narita Shinshoji Temple on the stage.

Some 10 priests from Narita-san, which is one of the most visited temples for “hatsumode,” or first visits of the year, prayed for a Lotte victory and created a sacred atmosphere at the moment.

Former great on the hill: Masaichi Kaneda, ex-Lotte Orions manager, tossed the ceremonial first pitch before Tuesday’s Game 3.

Wearing a bright blue jacket, Kaneda, a 400-game winner for the Kokutetsu Swallows (predecessor of Tokyo Yakult) and Yomiuri Giants, made the pitch without a bounce from his left arm.

The 77-year-old managed the Orions for two stints. The first was from 1973-78, and guided the club to its first Japan Series championship in ’74. His second managerial stint was from 1990-91.

Thoughts of Yu: Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters ace hurler Yu Darvish was a guest commentator for TV Asahi, which aired Game 3.

The right-hander, sitting alongside regular commentators Hideki Kuriyama and Atsuya Furuta, gave detailed comments from the perspective of an active pitcher.

“It takes time to get used to pitching in this stadium,” said Darvish, who led the PL in ERA (1.78) and strikeouts (222) this season. “But once I got used to it, I figured it was rather easy for me to pitch (here).”

Darvish added that a pitcher doesn’t need to have pinpoint control here because of the nasty winds at Chiba Marine.

“You only throw roughly,” he said. “You just pitch in the middle, so the wind helps the ball move.”