Masataka Nashida is stepping down as manager of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters at the end of the season.
More like, at the end of the Japan Series if the Fighters get their way.
Eiichi Koyano and Bobby Scales each drove in a run, Bobby Keppel threw seven shutout innings and the Fighters edged the Chiba Lotte Marines 2-1 on Thursday to finish a perfect 7-0 at Tokyo Dome this season.
“You guys were great support,” Keppel told the crowd after the game. “We look forward to coming back next year and keeping this streak going.”
Like the rest of the Fighters, the pitcher was coming to terms with the news Nashida would not be returning next season.
“We found out today at a team meeting,” Keppel said. “Over these last two years, I’ve only had one manager and he’s been phenomenal. I compare him to Ron Gardenhire with the (Minnesota) Twins. Just even keel, didn’t get too high or too low. He stuck with me in my tough times, so I really appreciate everything he’s done for us as a manager.”
Nashida announced his plans to the media at a news conference prior to the game, saying he hopes he gets the chance to go out on top.
“We are going to shoot for the league championship,” Nashida said during the news conference. “If we don’t win the championship, we still want to continue to win and earn the Japan Series title.”
Nashida’s club has a steep hill to climb in order to win the Pacific League pennant. Nippon Ham currently trails the first-place Fukuoka Softbank Hawks by 5½ games in the standings.
They helped their cause by sweeping their series against the Marines.
Koyano, who drove in the winning run in Wednesday’s contest, got the Fighters on the board early with an RBI single in the first inning.
Scales added an RBI double in the second to make the score 2-0.
Keppel (12-5) allowed four hits, walked two and struck out three in matching his wins total of a year ago.
“Personal wins aren’t a big deal,” Keppel said. “Hopefully we’re five games back, if the Hawks can lose today, and that’s our goal.”
Keppel was relieved by Yuya Ishii in the eighth, and the left-hander immediately pitched his way into a jam. Ishii walked Shota Ishimine to lead off the inning, then gave up a hit to Yoshifumi Okada.
Kazuya Fukuura advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt, and the Marines pulled within one when a ball hit to shallow center by Jose Castillo resulted in a run-scoring error. Ishii got the second out of the inning on a fortunate fielder’s choice that allowed the Fighters to retire the lead runner and popped up Shunichi Nemoto to end the threat.
Nippon Ham closer Hisashi Takeda retired the side in the ninth for his PL-leading 33rd save of the season.
Nashida is hoping to preside over a few more victories before giving up his spot in the dugout, but the manager said he was unsure about his future plans.
“I haven’t thought about anything yet,” Nashida said. “I want to have some time off so that I can relax a bit, while observing baseball from a bit of a different angle.”
Nashida is in his ninth season as a manager. He got his start in 2000 with the Kintetsu Buffaloes, the team he spent his entire playing career with. He guided the Buffaloes to the 2001 Japan Series, where they lost to the Yakult Swallows, and was the franchise’s last manager before its merger with the Orix BlueWave.
Nashida took the reins in Hokkaido in 2008, following Trey Hillman’s departure, and again won the pennant in his second year in charge, though the Fighters would fall to the Yomiuri Giants in the Japan Series.
Through Thursday’s game, Nashida is 639-577-21 in the dugout.
“I’ve always thought I would be managing one year at a time, no matter how many years were on my contract,” Nashida said. “I was really serious about this season and intended to give everything I had entering the year.
“I’m not burned out yet, but I feel I’ve been able to contribute (to the team) in some degree.”