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Slump frustrates batting champ Uchikawa in Japanese Fall Classic

by Jason Coskrey

As soon as wood met rawhide, Seiichi Uchikawa sped out of the batter’s box. He struck the ball well, and it had to be a relief, as he watched it sail to wall in center field, to finally have something go right at the plate.

At least, it would’ve been a relief had the ball actually hit the wall, rather than settling in the glove of Chunichi Dragons outfielder Atsushi Fujii, who made a nice catch on the run.

Maybe in a different time and place, that ball gets down for Uchikawa. But that’s not the way things have gone in his Japan Series debut. It’s been the exact opposite actually, the kind of series where a ball that should result in no worse than a single is turned into a long out.

It’s been a recurring theme for the Fukuoka Softbank veteran in this series. In four games, he’s managed just three hits with the most attention he’s garnered at the plate coming in Game 2, when Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai raised a question about the length of the tape on his bat.

“I’m not giving anything (to the team) right now,” Uchikawa said Tuesday. I’m being a bother.”

He had a much better night in Game 4, finishing 2-for-4 and helping to set up Softbank’s first run, maybe a sign things are turning around.

The Hawks have played far below their regular-season levels in the Japan Series, but Uchikawa’s struggles stand as the most baffling part of the team’s recent malaise.

He led NPB with a .338 average during the regular season. Uchikawa stayed hot into the postseason, hitting .455 against the Seibu Lions in the Pacific League Climax Series final stage and taking home MVP honors in that series.

That has counted for nothing against the Dragons, who have mostly kept him under wraps.

“The only relief for me is that the team won,” Uchikawa said after Game 3, in which the Hawks prevailed 4-2. It’s becoming a big problem for me, and it doesn’t matter who I’m facing.”

They won again in Game 4, meaning Uchikawa will get at least one more game back home in Fukuoka, perhaps with the Japan Series on the line.

Uchikawa put himself on the right track on Tuesday, but he’s got to keep it up because the Hawks will be counting on his bat going forward.