FUKUOKA – After another extra-inning 2-1 victory, Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai said he believes his team is used to being on the big stage.
His players are living up to expectations better than the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, their opponent in the Japan Series.
For instance, Chunichi again scored the game-winning run in the 10th in Sunday’s Game 2, just like in the series opener. No. 3 hitter Masahiko Morino came up with a two-out RBI hit off Hawks closer Takahiro Mahara, who has a 150-kph fastball and forkball in his arsenal.
The 33-year-old veteran Morino was serene in that critical moment with runners on first and second. He kept his cool, calmly reading Mahara’s mind.
“I was basically preparing for whatever kind of pitch he might use against me,” Morino said after Chunichi’s 2-1 win at Yahoo Dome. “But to be quite honest, I didn’t think he would pitch inside.
“I could tell Mahara was desperate to pitch low. Usually, you don’t want to swing at his low pitches (because he throws a forkball), but this time I was considering the zone.”
Though it didn’t come particularly low, Morino, a left-handed hitter, made good contact with Mahara’s third pitch to the opposite field, driving in Masahiro Araki home for the go-ahead run.
“He’s got experience,” Ochiai said of Morino, who raised his career Japan Series batting average to .324 after going 3-for-5 on Sunday.
You could say that Takuya Asao set up the victory. The right-hander allowed a game-tying run on a Munenori Kawasaki RBI in the bottom of the seventh, but got out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam by retiring the next two batters.
Like Morino, Asao was composed in a pressure-packed situation, which would test any pitcher’s nerves.
“Of course, I went to the mound trying to not allow any runs,” Asao said. “But even after I gave up the run, I could stay cool.”
Before the series started, the Hawks were favored to win because they are considered to have better personnel on offense and defense. But the Pacific League champions unexpectedly dropped the first pair of games at home.
“I wish we could have come up with a few more hits, so we could have won more easily,” Dragons veteran catcher Motonobu Tanishige said after his team finished with seven hits in Game 2.
Yet Tanishige wasn’t too upset. Not just because Chunichi now has a 2-0 series lead, but also because he knew how the Dragons have played all year.
“We know we can’t hit so easily,” he said. “We need to focus on defending the runs our offense has earned.”
True, the Dragons, who are playing in their fifth Japan Series since Ochiai took over as skipper in 2004, may be behind Softbank in terms of numbers. But experience can often be an underestimated factor on a big stage like the Japan Series.