/ |

Murata enjoying first playoff appearance

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Perhaps Shuichi Murata is the one who’s psyched up the most on the 21-time NPB champion Yomiuri Giants in the Japan Series.

The 31-year-old slugger joined the club via free agency before this season after playing for nine years with the always-struggling Yokohama BayStars.

With the ‘Stars, Murata had never even played in the Climax Series.

Murata smilingly said before Saturday’s Game 1 of the 2012 Japanese Fall Classic against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters that it was sort of a curious feeling to be playing at this time of year.

“It’s weird,” he said. “Because usually I’d watch the series on TV at home.”

But Murata didn’t particularly appear to have jitters as he entered the biggest stage of the season, adding that it would be the most important thing to perform as he’s always done.

“I’m just trying to play as I do,” said Murata, who hit .252 with 12 homers and 58 RBI in his first year with the Kyojin. “And I just try not to make bonehead plays. As far as I can do that, I should be fine.”

Playing at home but…: Giants captain and catcher Shinnosuke Abe anticipated that the Japan Series against the Fighters would feature nail-biting, close games because the Pacific League team is well balanced and cunning.

“They’ve got good offense and pitching and they can also run,” Abe said of the Fighters, who entered the Japan Series after sweeping the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the Climax Series final stage. “I have to say, it’s not a great feeling to be facing them.”

As a catcher, what Abe is cautious about is how to not let opposing batters smack the ball out of the yard since Tokyo Dome is known as a hitter’s park.

Abe said prior to the series opener that his hurlers on the hill need to do what he’s told them all year: Pitch low outside accurately.

Nippon Ham is not necessarily a long ball team, but has a few guys with decent power like Sho Nakata, Yoshio Itoi and Atsunori Inaba.

“Low outside is something I’ve always told our pitchers,” Abe said. “Tokyo Dome is a place you can hit home runs easier, so we’ve got to be careful about it.”

Start with the world champions: For the ceremonial first pitch of Game 1, the Little League World Series champion Tokyo Kitasuna took the field. Its ace pitcher, Kotaro Kiyomiya, fired a blazing fastball into the catcher’s mitt of Tatsuya Irie to get some cheers from the jam-packed crowd.

Tokyo Kitasuna routed Tennessee 12-2 in the final to earn its second-ever Little League World Series title in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in late August. It was the first LLWS championship for a Japanese representatives in two years.

The 183-cm Kiyomiya, a junior high school freshman, is a son of Katsuyuki Kiyomiya, a former Japan national team rugby player and current manager of Yamaha Jubilo of the domestic rugby union Top League.