FUKUOKA – Don’t be deceived by his baby face. If you do, he’ll bite you badly.
Dragons setup man Takuya Asao relieved starter Chen Wei-yin late before handing the pitching duties to closer Hitoki Iwase, who retired the final batter, in Game 1 of the Japan Series on Saturday.
“I was just going to pitch at my full strength,” the right-hander said after Chunichi’s 2-1, 10th-inning victory over the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks at Yahoo Dome. “No matter what kind of situation I was in, I was just going to go at my full strength.”
Asao earned the win. He entered the game in the ninth inning and the score tied 1-1. After he got outs from the first pair of batters, he allowed a runner to reach second on a fielding error, then intentionally walked Yuya Hasegawa. But he safely got of the jam by retiring Hitoshi Tamura for the third out.
And then in the bottom of the 10th, Asao fanned two big-muscle pinch hitters in Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Alex Cabrera, using his signature high-heat fastball. Iwase struck out Munenori Kawasaki for the game’s final out.
“I wasn’t particularly in good shape, but I felt good with my forkball,” Asao said. “But it doesn’t matter. The result is all you could ask for (in the Japan Series).”
Asao came into the Japanese Fall Classic perhaps with higher motivation than anyone. The Dragons lost to the Chiba Lotte Marines in last year’s Japan Series, and it was a bitter pill to swallow for the 27-year-old.
He gave up a game-tying run in Game 6 and let the champion flag slip away by allowing a championship-winning triple to Yukifumi Okada in the 12th inning in the decisive seventh game. The bad taste in his mouth from that series ruined every positive outcome he had in the 2010 campaign, when he posted a 12-3 record with a 1.68 ERA, setting an NPB record of 47 holds in 72 games.
“I haven’t forgotten the regrettable feeling from last year,” said Asao, who pitched in an NPB-high 79 games with a 7-2 record and 45 holds this year. “So this time, in this Japan Series, we would like to finish it as the winner.”
Iwase, the Dragons’ iconic, 300-save closer, is 37 and has started to show his age. But with Asao around, Chunichi’s bullpen remains scary and should provide a stiff challenge for the Pacific League champion Hawks for the reminder of the series.
Carp sign Mickolio
The Hiroshima Carp said Saturday they have acquired right-handed reliever Kam Mickolio.
Mickolio made six appearances for the Arizona Diamondbacks this past season, going 0-0 with a 6.75 ERA.
The 205-cm, 27-year-old has an 0-3 career record with no saves and a 4.83 ERA in 29 games over four major league seasons.
The Carp hope that Mickolio will fill a middle relief role before Dennis Sarfate closes out a game.